In what’s set to be the largest cultural infrastructure project in Australia’s history, the Melbourne Arts Precinct is undergoing a $1.7 billion transformation. The Victorian Government project will deliver The Fox: NGV Contemporary – a new world-class contemporary gallery dedicated to art and design – as well as significant upgrades and expansion to Arts Centre Melbourne, and a new 18,000 square metre urban garden. Major construction is already underway to reshape the globally significant cultural destination.

According to Katrina Sedgwick OAM, the inaugural director and CEO of Melbourne Arts Precinct Corporation (MAP Co), the transformation will totally change the Australian arts landscape. Melbourne’s Arts Precinct in Southbank is already home to an extraordinarily high concentration of arts and cultural institutions, and up to 3000 performances and exhibitions are presented there in a typical year. The landmark gallery will only add to that offer.

“The Fox: NGV Contemporary is going to welcome at least a million new people per year,” says Sedgwick. “It’s a gallery that, in terms of its scale, is close to that of MoMA [The Museum of Modern Art] in New York or the Tate Modern in London.”

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“[These are] really ambitious contemporary galleries of scale, which enable you to show the work of artists who are creating all sorts of works that are both tiny and gigantic, that are immersive and transformative,” she says.

Arts Centre Melbourne, home of companies including Opera Australia and The Australian Ballet, will see its first large-scale refurbishments to the Theatres Building since opening in 1984. Among the changes will be new lifts and accessible seating, and aisles in the State Theatre, which will provide patrons with mobility requirements the opportunity to sit across all three levels. Back-of-house amenities will be upgraded for performers and crew too, including a new accessible stage door, expanded loading dock and a new rehearsal space and studio. Visitors can expect two new venues for pre- and post-show dining, which will open onto the new urban garden.

“These restaurants will back straight onto the public realm, which is a new 18,000 square metre garden,” says Sedgwick. “You’ll be able to come have a coffee in the morning, a drink before the show, or just turn up and have a meal and look out across this stunning garden, across the river and into the city.”

First Nations voices have been key during the design and development process. They will remain pivotal throughout construction. “This project is being created and built on the land of the Wurundjeri people, where there’s been continuous and constant storytelling and activation for 60,000 years,” says Sedgwick.

“We’re working with three of the Wurundjeri Elders, three Wurundjeri Aunties, working really closely across consultation through all elements of the project,” says Sedgwick. “That’s been a really important process.”

Another important consideration has been sustainability, with the National Gallery of Victoria, Arts Centre Melbourne, Creative Victoria and Development Victoria working together to strive for green outcomes. “We’re aiming for zero, wherever we can, on this project,” says Sedgwick. “Across energy, costs, waste, water and carbon emissions – consolidating wherever we can and refining wherever we can.”

Ultimately, Sedgwick is excited about what the project will mean for Melbourne. “I think it’s a game changer for the city,” she says. “It feels like a natural evolution, really, for a city that is deeply committed to culture, to creativity, to First Nations stories, to Treaty. And I think that the transformation that’s being undertaken here is going to deliver a really rich amplification.”

Broadsheet is a proud media partner of Melbourne Arts Precinct.