It’s crucial for the cultural fabric of a city to have places where emerging artists can exhibit. Places that become hubs for creatives to meet, share ideas and support each other. In Chippendale, Regent Street bar Freda’s is one such place.
Freda’s has long been an important part of Sydney’s nightlife and arts scene, regularly supporting the arts through live gigs, events like after pARTy and poetry nights. It expanded in 2017, opening Down/Under space, an exhibition room housed in the 100-year-old basement below the bar, provided rent-free and commission-free to emerging artists.
Down/Under is rare in that it feels separated from the outside world, but has the benefit of operating in tandem with its sister venue upstairs.
“Most people don’t even know it’s here,” says owner David Abram. “There is a lot of exciting opportunity for cross-programming over the two spaces. You might see an exhibition or performance down here in the art space, then walk upstairs and see live music or great DJs. This crossover makes the space and experience more dynamic and social than you would often get in a traditional art spaces.”
Down/Under thrives on being a multipurpose venue, having also housed pop-up shops, one-off dinners, private functions, screenings and parties. Abram is also currently working on developing it into a secondary live music room to showcase emerging musicians. That’s not to say it can’t co-exist with more traditional local art spaces.
“There are a number of really good galleries nearby and operating in the inner-city,” says Abram. “Wellington St Projects always presents good shows and is in a really interesting building. 107 Projects in Redfern has developed into a multidisciplinary arts, social and performance space for the local community. China Heights in Surry Hills and Alaska Projects in Kings Cross continue to be stalwarts of the Sydney scene, taking in everything from graphic arts to photography, counter culture and musical performances.”
Freda’s finds its niche in being both a venue for musicians as well as the local community. “It’s a safe, welcoming space for all members,” says Abram. “It’s thrived on being an open platform for creative expression with a particular focus on emerging musicians, DJs and left-of-centre music. The hope is that over time Down/Under can fulfil a similar outcome with a focus on emerging artists, performers, curators, writers and the wide audience interested in seeing this work.” It recently launched a call out for programming in 2018, encouraging those interested in showing work or putting together a night to get in touch.
While it does host occasional daytime programming on weekends, Down/Under is mostly open from 5pm onwards, depending on the show. Exhibiting at night creates a more intimate, social environment, says Abram, which lends itself to different kinds of art. “One of the key outcomes for the programming this year is to have as much multidisciplinary cross-collaboration on shows as possible,” he says. “This means we can incorporate things like regular performance art and live music into the programming as well more traditional individual and group shows, or intertwine the two.”
This year Freda's will appear for the third time as part of the programming for Vivid Sydney. Features include sets from Wax O Paradiso, a live label showcase from Ken Oath Records, a party from "next gen hair salon" Extra Silky, a Vogue-era tribute to Madonna, and a birthday bash for local party, Vibe Positive. It's inclusion in the festival is a reliable sign of its standing in the local community.
Abram says that community thrives on being kindred spirits. “I really admire The Bearded Tit because of what they have established as a bar and art space,” says Abram. “They also had a real financial struggle with their hours being cut back [these have recently been reinstated] but have continued throughout to showcase and represent artists and musicians unflinchingly. It takes a lot of guts to stick things out in such a difficult environment, which Sydney has become. But they soldier on in spite of the hardships and the costs associated.”
Being such a long-standing figure in the community means you get to know the area pretty well. Abram is fond of several eats in the area, including Ester, (“one of the best restaurants in Sydney,”) as well as cheaper fare around the corner at Central Park, including Ippudo, which, he says, “makes pretty great ramen and good lunch specials”. “I have also been indulging in some of the delicious food that Cheesy Grin, a pop-up kitchen operating in Freda’s, is making, run by ex Roberta’s New York chef, Wesley Cooper Jones.”