Sydney is Australia’s undisputed film and television production hub, but there are plenty of other creative industries thriving throughout the city as well. In fact, Sydney is set apart by the transparent interactions between its artists, commercial spaces, museums, and government-run projects. The city’s art scene has an energy and dynamism that isn’t necessarily prominent in other major urban areas around the world.
And, as the capital of New South Wales and one of Australia’s largest metropolises, Sydney offers countless sights and activities. So, if you put two and two together, you’re bound to discover plenty of creative inspiration while you’re there.
In this guide, we’ve outlined some of the best art-friendly spaces across the city. Have at ’em!
Whether you’re a freelancer with a budget of $50 or the creative director of a full-fledged company, Sydney has plenty of coworking spaces to choose from.
Muse Building: Located in a beautiful brick building in the heart of Surry Hills, Muse is a home away from home for creators in design, film, fashion, branding, architecture, art, and media. It provides a variety of work and studio spaces and even has its own gallery and events area. Suitable for locals and travelers alike, Muse offers three “membership” options: casual, part-time, and full-time. To inquire about pricing packages, click here.
Gravity Coworking: Though best-known for its Melbourne space, Gravity also has a home in Sydney, which offers every amenity that the southern city’s does — including bike racks, lockers, showers, printing facilities, a fully equipped kitchen, and the best technological platforms available. The space also houses meeting rooms, breakout areas, and work booths — ideal for any type of work — and offers casual, part-time, and full-time memberships.
Makerspace & Co: Situated in Marrickville, Makerspace is a place for locals to participate in the culture of making, and for visitors to experience the best in Australian design. Its members can access metal, ceramic, wood, textile, electronic, and printmaking equipment along with staff expertise, coworking spaces, and events. Additionally, the space offers classes that encompass everything from design to business development. First-timer passes, which cover your first two visits, are priced at $50 AUD, and monthly memberships increase from there.
TwoSpace: By utilizing spaces such as restaurants and bars that wouldn’t otherwise be open during the day, TwoSpace offers a whole slew of “coworking hubs” across the city. The idea is that you can work from a beach one day and a rooftop the next — always with guaranteed WiFi, meeting rooms, workshops, and happy hours. At each space, visitors are welcomed by a host and other TwoSpacers, but are given the freedom to work where and how they want. Although monthly memberships start at $69 AUD, you can book your first week for free!
From festivals and fairs, to workshops and lectures, Sydney is home to a number of creative events that will spark inspiration. Here are a few favorites.
CreativeMornings Sydney: CreativeMornings is a (free) breakfast lecture series that was founded by Tina Roth-Eisenberg for creatives in cities across the globe. The Sydney branch holds events at Work-Shop one Friday a month. The focus of each lecture is always different, but regardless of which one you attend, you’ll be sure to find coffee, snacks, and good conversation. For up-to-date information on CreativeMornings SYD, follow them on Instagram.
The School of Life Sydney: Launched in 2016, the School of Life Sydney is devoted to developing emotional intelligence through the help of culture. Through classes, workshops, and secular sermons, they address issues such as how to find fulfilling work, how to master the art of relationships, how to understand one’s past, how to achieve calm, and how better to understand and, where necessary, change the world. They also publish books, film their events, and make and sell a range of objects and tools to assist you in the quest for a more creative life. Check out their calendar here.
VOLUME | Another Art Book Fair: VOLUME is an event that features over 70 exhibitors from Australia and other countries around the world, including Amsterdam, Hong Kong, South Korea, France, and the United States. Alongside their international line-up of publishers, artists, collectives, galleries, and distributors is a free program of talks, artist-led workshops, book launches, readings, and performances. The event also houses the Book Machine, a five-day public program that pairs participants of all backgrounds and experiences with emerging designers from Sydney’s best art and design schools to create their own publications (over 200 books were created at the 2017 event!). The fair usually takes place in October, so keep an eye out!
The Other Art Fair (Sydney): Born from the realization of the disparity between an audience eager to discover the next big thing and talented artists struggling to gain recognition, the Other Art Fair was founded and launched in Australia, the U.S., and the U.K. It is currently the leading fair for art lovers to meet and buy directly from the best emerging and undiscovered artists. The Sydney fair is typically held in March and showcases work by a selection of talented artists handpicked by a committee of art industry experts. For more information on the event, join its newsletter.
Sydney Contemporary Art Fair: Sydney Contemporary is Oceania’s largest international art fair, showcasing work by emerging and established artists from more than 90 leading galleries around the globe. Taking place from the 13th–16th of September, 2018, at the Carriageworks arts center, the fourth edition will celebrate four days of curated exhibitions and is meant for serious collectors, art lovers, and anyone curious about contemporary art. To follow along with the event, check out its Instagram.
Sydney Festival: Every January, Sydney Festival enlivens and transforms Sydney with a bold cultural celebration based on big ideas and cutting-edge art and performance. The program is kaleidoscopic in its diversity, showcasing contemporary ballet, art installations, international theatre, primal circus, immersive virtual reality, modern indigenous art, punk protest music, and more. With a broad range of free events and accessible pricing policies for the ticketed shows, Sydney Festival is open to all. If this sounds like it’s up your alley, give them a follow and head to Sydney during the Australian summer!
If hands-on learning is your thing, express yourself through some of Sydney’s most talked-about creative courses and workshops.
Foley Street: This shopping laneway in Sydney is known for its maker-spaces and creative workshops. Ceramic artists at Studio Enti, for example, can guide you through a modern interpretation of the ancient Japanese mending technique, Kintsugi. Or, you can get your hands dirty making a striking sculptural vase or a useful bowl and spoon set. Keep an eye out for workshops from the other four tenants as well, which include demonstrations from a self-taught shoemaker and the metalworker behind Burton Metal Depository.
Pine Street Creative Arts Centre: Pine Street is a community-focused arts space dedicated to helping people develop their creative skills. Along with its arts facilities and gallery, it offers a dynamic program of quality arts courses, including printmaking, ceramics, painting, and drawing. It operates from two locations: the main premises at Pine Street in Chippendale and the Harry Burland Activity Centre in Darlington. To see a full list of the center’s programs, click here.
Work-Shop Sydney: Offering “creative classes for curious minds,” Work-Shop provides short, affordable courses in life skills and alternative art. The community is comprised of some of Australia’s brightest creative minds who share their knowledge and help teach students new skills. From 3D-printing to stencil art, music, gardening, baking, and foraging, it offers a broad range of fun and creative short courses that suit just about anyone. So, pick up that pen, paint brush, hammer, or sewing machine, and make something!
NSW Writers’ Centre: From its base in Sydney, the NSW Writers’ Centre presents an annual program of courses that includes writing workshops, masterclasses, and professional development seminars. The training is delivered by published authors and experienced teachers and covers a full range of genres and styles of writing. If you’ve been waiting to start a novel, a short story, a poem, or some other writing project, this might just be the place to help you shape your masterpiece.
Australian Design Centre: Established in 1964, the Australian Design Centre (ADC) is one of Australia’s most innovative arts organizations. ADC is a not-for-profit center that creates opportunities for people to engage with design, craft, and creativity through dynamic touring exhibitions as well as through various publishing, digital, and educational activities. To check out upcoming workshops, click here.
Whether you’re looking to peruse murals, photographs, illustrations, sculptures, or installations, Sydney’s art galleries are sure to inspire individual expression.
Artspace: Located on the harbor-front between Sydney’s main cultural tourist precinct and Kings Cross, Artspace is at the epicenter of what is now the burgeoning East Sydney Arts Precinct. Ever-changing and ever-challenging, this gallery is where audiences can encounter some of the leading artists and ideas of our times. Through exhibitions, performances, artist residencies, and public programs, Artspace provides an environment where artists of all generations can test new ideas, engage with contemporary art, and shape public conversation. For more information, browse the program calendar here.
Art Gallery of NSW: Established in 1871, the Art Gallery of NSW is the leading museum of art in New South Wales and Sydney, and one of Australia’s foremost cultural institutions. It holds significant collections of Australian, European, and Asian art, and presents nearly 40 exhibitions annually. But the gallery is far more than just a destination for looking at pictures. It’s also a place to enjoy lectures, symposia, films, live music, film screenings, and weekly Art After Hours programs; meet friends for a meal or a cup of coffee in the café; or browse the Gallery Shop. So, no matter what you’re looking for, remember to stay up to date with “what’s on” at the gallery.
Brett Whiteley Studio: This studio was once the home and workplace of Australian artist Brett Whiteley. The artist bought the former warehouse in 1985, converted it into a studio and exhibition space soon after, and lived there until his death in 1992. The NSW Government subsequently bought the space and opened it to the public as the Brett Whiteley Studio in 1995. Those who visit the studio are provided with a unique snapshot into the artist’s practice, as the space itself is arranged as it would have been during his life — complete with his unfinished paintings, art equipment, collections of reference books, and walls covered with graffiti-esque quotes and images. It’s open to the public on most Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and to educational groups on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Campbelltown Arts Centre: This arts center profiles contemporary visual arts, performance, dance, music, live art, and emergent practices from western Sydney. But it also showcases Australian and international artists whose works engage with the arts practice and the issues of Campbelltown and its surrounding communities. Beyond that, CAC offer residencies for dance, performance, and visual artists, allowing creative minds to develop new works. And, to top it off, the center consists of gallery spaces, a performance studio, workshops, a residency apartment, a sculpture garden, a Japanese garden, and a large outdoor amphitheater.
Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA): Located on the edge of Sydney Harbour, the MCA stands on land of immense cultural and historical significance to the ancestral inhabitants of the place, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. In fact, the artwork situated at the entrance of the Museum informs visitors of the relevance of the site. Additionally, the MCA collection contains over 4,000 works by Australian artists that have been acquired since 1989. Although the museum collects all art forms, it has a strong focus on painting, photography, sculpture, works on paper, and moving images, as well as a significant representation of works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.
Just in case you feel like doing a little shopping while in Sydney, here are a few artsy boutiques scattered across the city.
Pulp Creative Paper: This paper, stationery, and gift store located in Balgowlah on the Northern Beaches of Sydney is known as a treasure trove for paper enthusiasts — and it’s no wonder. You can’t help but be drawn into this beautiful, colorful, and creative space. Pulp Creative Paper sources stationery from artists all over the world, and the shop itself is lined with rows of wrapping paper, shelves of notebooks, and stacks of handmade Opal card covers. In short, this is the place to go if you want to spend hours browsing hand-drawn thank-you cards.
Desire Books & Records: Designed for biblio- and audiophiles alike, Desire sells secondhand books and vinyl records. With subtle, retro touches throughout the store — such as signage made from Scrabble letters, vintage typewriters, handmade patches, and quotes like “What would Nietzsche do?” — it’s easy to get lost in its maze of aisles. The shop also displays an eclectic mix of staff recommendations spanning from classics to oddities that encourage reading “off the beaten track.” The shop even holds monthly open mics and a Writers’ Rumble, where wordsmiths can come together and workshop their writing.
The Flower Room: Located on Newtown’s busy King Street, the Flower Room is a somewhat funky oasis known for its orchid, water lily, and bromeliad arrangements that are finished with dried lotus leaves and natural twine. The space also houses plenty of terrariums and wooden boxes filled with succulents, ferns, and moss, so the ambiance is a little less floral and a little more ethereal. While it stocks its fair share of beautiful products, the Flower Room is also a great place to let your imagination wander.
Apostlebird: From industrial storage to barnyard chic, and Rockabilly to Steampunk, you’ll find all kinds of obscure and unusual items at this Manly-based store. Selling pieces from the late 1800s up to modern-day, Apostlebird offers vintage Coca-Cola merchandise, neon signs, prosthetic body parts, medical instruments, taxidermy, gas masks, and industrial furniture — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re a fan of decor and oddities, this might just be your new heaven.
Kirribilli Markets: The second Sunday of every month marks the art, design, and fashion iteration of Kirribilli’s historic market. Held on Alfred Street South in Milsons Point, this one-stop-shop features rows upon rows of eccentric and colorful vintage clothes, handicrafts, accessories, and local designs. In addition to its vibrant atmosphere, the market also offers live music and a host of international food options. So, no matter what time of year you visit Sydney, be sure to check the Kirribilli Market calendar!
Australia’s claim to the flat white may be contentious, but its love affair with coffee is hardly up for debate. Whether you’re looking for a good brew or a place to let your creativity flow, here a few Sydney-based coffee shops worth visiting.
Gertrude and Alice: This Bondi locale is more than just a place to grab a quick cup of joe; it also happens to be a bookstore. This oasis for writers, readers, and thespians is the ideal place for anyone looking to enjoy a drink while perusing the pages of a novel. To top it off, this local favorite has plenty of delectable food options. So, grab an armchair in the Hemingway Room and settle in amid the stacks of tomes and antiques. You’re bound to have a wonderfully relaxing time.
Shenkin: As an ever-popular local haunt, Shenkin mixes modern Aussie cuisine with the traditional culinary delights of Israel. Its cottage-like décor makes it feel as though you’ve stepped back in time as soon as you walk through the door. The cozy café offers fresh, artisanal coffee and gourmet pastries, and its chorizo shakshuka is worth a visit in and of itself. If you’re on the hunt for a warm, inviting atmosphere to draw, read, write, or daydream in, head to this Erskineville café.
Three Williams: Looking for a spot to plug-in and get some work done? Head to Three Williams. Although the majority of Sydney cafés are fairly tiny — and are therefore lacking in table space, WiFi, and power outlets — this warehouse-style space is just big enough for freelancers to set up shop until it’s time to clock out. As a bonus, the café also offers a minimalist atmosphere that’s ideal for focused work. If you throw in some healthy eats (sample the daily “narnie creation”) and fresh coffee, your workday doesn’t even sound too bad.
Kawa: This Surry Hills spot is an old faithful for freelancers and writers — and for good reason. The peaceful and unassuming café has plenty of quaint areas that are ideal for quiet contemplation or simply whiling away the hours with a bit of people-watching. Although the furniture might be mismatched, the vintage iron folding chairs and tables are all part of the appeal.
Clipper Café: A real Glebe institution, Clipper Café is often compared to a rickety country home that found itself in the midst of the big city. With its nooks, crannies, and rustic stylings, it gives off the impression that you’ve escaped the hustle and bustle of everyday life and snuggled up into your own corner of history. Add in a big bowl of the homemade chai porridge, and you’ve got the perfect place to sit back and watch the world go by.
Header image by Tim Mossholder