Tonight sees the opening of one of West Space’s most important yearly events, and gives Melbourne art lovers the chance to snap up works by a procession of Australia’s foremost emerging and established artists.

Having moved to its impressive new Bourke Street digs earlier this year, the artist-run gallery’s annual fundraiser, West Space 2011, draws on artists who have shown, collaborated with or been somehow associated with the space in recent years.

The extensive, in some cases illustrious, list of artists showing as part of the event speaks volumes of West Space’s centrality to Melbourne, Australia and the region’s contemporary art vernacular. The likes of Bianca Hester, Lou Hubbard, Masato Takasaka, Raafat Ishak, Tony Garifalakis, Sally Smart, Sue Dodd, Tai Snaith, Kit Wise, Laithe McGregor, Emily Ferretti, Sangeeta Sandrasegar, Drew Pettifer, Dane Lovett, Alasdair McLuckie and Ash Keating along with countless others will feature.

But this is more than just a smash-and-grab art sale. In an increasingly challenging environment for smaller and non-profit art spaces, exhibitions like West Space 2011 mark a crucial opportunity to raise the funds necessary to keep such institutions afloat. The calibre of the artists to have graced West Space’s various sites, projects and incarnations over the years makes for a telling articulation of just how important that is.

West Space 2011 opens tonight 6pm–9pm and runs until Sunday September 25.