Over the past two years it has become more commonplace to hear news of Sydney artist-run initiatives closing than opening. Archive Space in Newtown and Corner Cooperative in Chippendale closed in 2015 and MOP Projects closed in 2016. Federal government budget cuts affected more than 60 arts organisations Australia-wide last year. The flow-on-effect has seen remaining Sydney arts organisations forced to rethink their operation strategies and look at new ways of reshaping the gallery model in order to remain viable.
Chippendale bar Freda’s has long been a supporter of the arts, hosting a range of community and cultural events, such as the monthly afterpArty and poetry and film nights. This year it’s taken variety a step further and donated its downstairs basement to a team of young curators as a rent-free, commission-free project space, Down / Under Space.
“[The funding cuts] has resulted in a really big gap in Sydney where people who are straight out of university struggle to find spaces to exhibit in,” says curator Anna Kirk.
“Dave has been so generous,” co-curator Yarran Gatsby. “The lack of financial pressure gives us the ability to showcase anyone without expecting a return. It means we don’t have to put on commercial shows and we can really make it a space for experimentation.”
The space will operate during the same hours as Freda’s, opening itself up to a night audience.
“The idea of walking down a staircase that’s at the back of a bar next to the toilets and there’s this whole other world down there – it really enhances the sense of discovery and play with art. I feel that’s really missing from a lot of spaces in Sydney,” says Kirk.
While the team – comprising Anna Kirk, Yarran Gatsby, Alice Joel (creative director and prop maker), Sabella D’Souza (an emerging Sydney-based artist), Joel Perlgut (film maker and writer) and Sebastian Henry-Jones (curator) – has cleaned out the basement and painted the walls white, the space remains true to its architectural integrity. Exposed pipes run throughout and when the lights are off the room is pitch black.
“It’s not the generic white cube gallery space. It can be entirely manipulated by the artists with lighting and moveable walls,” says Kirk.
Dedicated to exhibiting emerging and unrepresented artists, the team has put together an ambitious and multi-disciplinary program of visual and performance arts, music and sound.
As well as a holding a monthly exhibition, there will be a curated film program running three Tuesdays of each month, and a monthly performance program. Artists invited for the performance program will use the space as a studio over the course of a few days and then have the opportunity to exhibit their work.
“The artists are also going to be curating the music upstairs [in Freda’s] for each of the openings,” says Gatsby.
While Freda’s and Down / Under Space exist as two separate entities the beauty of the collaboration will emerge in the cross programming and flow of patrons from bar to exhibition space and vice versa. “We’re going to use the context of being in a bar to activate the space with interesting talks and performances and Sunday closing parties,” say Kirk.
Down / Under Space
109 Regent Street, Chippendale