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Stephen Pigott and his partner Tara Poole were on their way to visit the historic Art Gallery of Ballarat when they parked on Camp Street in the centre of town. Next to their car was another nineteenth-century building: a former masonic hall, complete with an impressive pair of columns flanking its towering entrance.

“We immediately saw the potential for it,” says Pigott. The pair bought the well-preserved landmark in early 2015, and soon relocated from their home in Melbourne to open The Lost Ones Makers Studio in the former hall, turning the space into a commercial art gallery with a basement workshop space and cosy bar.

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Six years later they’ve transformed the space again, dividing the ground floor into individual studios for local craftspeople while selling the basement space to cocktail bar 18th Amendment. While Poole has now exited the business to focus on her role as City of Ballarat’s creative city coordinator, Pigott remains as director of the rebranded The Lost Ones Makers Studio.

Such organic flux reflects the wider shifts rippling through Ballarat over the past decade, as more people have transitioned from city life to a quieter pace (and more affordable housing) without wanting to sacrifice a richness of cultural offerings.

“We’ve noticed a lot of changes to the art scene and Ballarat in general,” says Pigott. “As people moved up from Melbourne, they were more open to the kind of experiences and venues opening around town. Now it’s changing again with the pandemic, so there are even more people moving here. It’s growing a lot.”

While Pigott relishes his newly-relaxed workload after running a gallery and bar full-time, he has fond memories of the past six years. Chief among them was co-hosting a 24-hour music marathon for 2015’s Festival of Slow Music, which saw revolving musicians stationed at a baby grand piano, while the audience enjoyed mulled wine around an open fire. Likewise, he’s proud of The Lost Ones’ success as a gallery, showcasing emerging local artists while utilising its close proximity to the Art Gallery of Ballarat to encourage a mini arts precinct.

“We’ve worked quite well with the gallery, they’re like a big sister,” he says. “We tried to fit in with the ecology of exhibition spaces in the area. There’s a lot of potential for a cultural hub here.”

There’s a clue to that ethos in the name. The Lost Ones derives from the building’s origins as a meeting place for the masons, who in the eighteenth century functioned as an elite group, eschewing women and the poor. “We wanted to clear those ghosts out a bit,” says Pigott. “So we thought of the people who were excluded or didn’t fit it in anywhere else.”

Since transitioning to a makers studio in late 2019, The Lost Ones has housed such talent as leatherworker Benny Mitchell and painter Lily Mae Martin. Both have since moved on, but the freedom from long-term leases is attractive to artists. Silversmith and jewellery maker Rachel Grose has been there from the start, while two other creators operate there at the moment: intricate collage artist Amanda Edwards and colourful yarn and textiles artist Alex Bayley.

Visitors are welcome, with an open invitation to see and meet the artists and the option to buy or commission pieces. Though the space is open from 11am to 4pm Wednesday through Sunday, Pigott recommends reaching out to specific artists to confirm they’ll be there. “They’re happy to talk about what they do to anyone who wants to get more deeply involved with it,” he says.

As Pigott intuited back in 2015, a visit to The Lost Ones remains an ideal complement to the expansive art gallery just across Camp Street. Whichever spot you visit, make time first for a cocktail downstairs and ponder the power of a tree change.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Visit Victoria.

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