Overlooking the construction sites and peak-hour traffic soaring along Plenty Road, an old funeral parlour stands quietly and inconspicuously, awaiting its fate. Inside, a dozen artists are frenziedly petitioning to save the building, which serves as a creative working space for some and a home for others.
Curator Brian Cohen took over the building lease in 2011 creating a venue for The Parlour creative studios. Since then, it's been providing space for around 12 artists who work across the full spectrum of creative mediums, from painting and sculpture to photography and filmmaking. But most importantly, The Parlour has facilitated a unique, collaborative creative environment for its tenants and in doing so brought new life to much of the Preston community.
But all that work could soon be undone. Late last year, The Parlour residents were notified that the owner of the property had fallen ill and intended to sell the estate at auction. With Darebin Council approving plans for a 25-unit apartment complex to be built on the site, the building's fate already seemed sealed. It's an enormous blow to both the artists who have built this space and to their supporters.
Venturing beyond the hearse-sized gate, visitors are greeted by a grassed playground, decorated with homemade wooden forts, giggling kids playing hide and seek, cheerful smiles and open doors. The coffins, gravestones and eerie vibes we usually associate with funeral homes are long gone, replaced with a sense of warmth and community for which The Parlour is now renowned.
Kids have always been welcome at The Parlour and not only are those who rent studio spaces encouraged to bring family along – a public playgroup has been operating on the grounds every Tuesday. Michael O'Dwyer — a woodworker, designer and public artist who forms part of the Parlour's “core team” — comments that this not only eased the pressure on the artists themselves, but gave the kids an opportunity to be exposed to creative experiences.
“It means they learn to respect the art, the work we do,” he says.
Another casualty will be the former Parlour Hotel international artist-in-residence program. Over the past couple of years, guest artists have been able to apply for free board and working space in return for a piece of work, exhibited at an event held at the culmination of their 28-day stay.
Although The Parlour was never intended to be a permanent fixture, the eviction is unexpected.
“We're trying to get as much use out of it while we still can,” says Cohen with obvious disappointment. “We're hoping to hire it out as much as possible until we're evicted."
But with change comes opportunity. The Parlour team are already thinking about expanding on their vision and taking the initiative to its next level in a new (and hopefully more secure) location. In Cohen’s words: “We want to move toward the one creative syndicate.”