Nicholas Building Arts

Melbourne Art and International Artists

NICHOLAS BUILDING ARTS: Artists and art businesses associated with the Nicholas Building

(corner Flinders Lane) 37 Swanston Street. Melbourne. Australia.

Vali Myers. A Memoir by Gianni Menichetti

  • Vali was a dear dear friend of mine and next door neighbour in the Nicholas Building for many years until her passing away February 2003. We would take our studio guests around to each others studio, for a visit. I spent many hours in Vali's studio, as did many others, sitting around on her cushions talking art, life and having a few drinks as the sun went down on the Cathedral outside her studio. Her advice invaluable, her friendship cherished. I still have many of Vali's items which she passed on to me, in my studio, things that are of value to another artist. Early handwritten drafts of her book and diary, and even her old broken fridge, which I use to store my clay in - the door seal still works and prevents the clay from drying out. With these, to me it feels like Vali has not left the Building, rather she's just away somewhere, at Il Porto perhaps feeding the chooks and working by candle light with a goose quill pen on a new work, and one day will walk through the door again with 'Hello love, what have you been up to?" I thoroughly recommend this book to everyone. - Garry Shepherd

The Australian artist, Vali Myers, was a legend in her own time. Première danseuse of the Melbourne Modern Ballet at seventeen, she left home and spent ten years in Paris, living much of the time on the streets but never ceasing to draw. Ed van der Elsken famously put her on the cover of his Love on the Left Bank, that manifesto of Paris in the 1950’s and her work was praised by George Plimpton in his Paris Review. Then, saying goodbye to all that, she spent forty years in semi-seclusion in a wild canyon in Italy, where she continued producing her minute, mystical, and passionate drawings. Tough as nails, she fought the local authorities who wanted to introduce loggers into the valley, after a long struggle succeeding in having it designated an Environmental Oasis. Finally, Vali returned triumphant to her native Melbourne, where she was recognized as an artist sui generis.

In this brilliant memoir by her friend and lover, Gianni Menichetti, her art, times, and personality come through unforgettably. For thirty years, Gianni Menichetti, the author of this memoir, lived with Vali Myers in the wild canyon of ‘Il Porto’—first as lover and willing slave, ultimately as friend, confidant, and protector.

New Release: Vali Myers ● A Memoir ● by Gianni Menichetti

  • “You saw in her the personalization of something torn and loose and deep down primitive in all of us.” — George Plimpton, Paris Review
  • “Vali’s dogs, Vali’s trees, Vali’s donkey, the birds, the flowers, the caves, the spiders of Vali. We have seen for the first time the old skeleton of nature." — Bernardo Bertolucci, film-maker, Last Tango in Paris, Stealing Beauty
  • "It was like being friends with some angel who had gotten kicked out for lewd behavior" - Chris Stern, musician, Blondie

$25.00 US
ISBN 0-9785606-0-4
Published by
The Golda Foundation © 2007

Vali & Gianni dancing, Il Porto
by Marco Bakker 2000

Vali in her Nicholas Building studio

Nicholas Building artist (and lift attendant) Dimi, with his just arrived copy of Gianni's book. Dimi is in the book.

Below: A sample of Vali's works.

More works and details on



 Garry Shepherd

Garry continues his arts practice internationally these days. For the latest news, fine art robots, exhibitions, DVD and music releases see MSO - Melbourne Shuffle Oldskool and msoPHATS.

Shantaram. Gregory David Roberts

Greg is well known around the Nicholas Building, writing his masterpiece novel Shantaram, here over a number of years in the early 2000's, on the second floor. (Pic right) Greg on the phone (again) in the Nicholas Building Arcade. Picture credit: Garry Shepherd 2004

The movie version of Shantaram is currently in production, staring Johnny Depp. (Pic left) Greg and Johnny in the Nicholas Building. Picture credit: Bill Carter. For more information and details of Gregs lectures,

Well Theatre. Great Wall Of Books

The Great Wall Of Books is in Federation Square Melbourne from 5 January 2008 to 10 January 2008 - From 2pm until twilight each day. See The Age review

Dario Vacirca (left), artistic director of contemporary arts company WELL Theatre, and creative engineer Alex Ben Mayor in front of The Great Wall of Books at Federation Square yesterday. The installation is five metres tall and 11 metres wide. Photo: Michelle Ferguson

The Great Wall of Books was in residence in Macao, China from June to September 2007 and then travelled back to Melbourne, Australia for a one-week presentation at Federation Square.
Great Wall of Books is a unique contemporary art project, simultaneously: public sculpture, interactive installation, outdoor performance, exhibition space and a point of creative departure for invited artists and communities.
Literally a gigantic book, 5 meters tall and opening out to over 11 meters wide, it is a vessel that both generates and stores written, aural and visual stories.
People are invited to create and record their own stories across a range of interactive spaces within the structure. These creations are bound and catalogued, becoming a part of the ever-evolving library that is the central body of the book.
More information and updates:Well Theatre

ABC Radio. Documentary 'Nine Floors of Inspiration'

On 24 September 2006 ABC Radio Australia broadcast a documentary on the Nicholas Building, produced by Ellen Spalding and called Nine Floors of Inspiration.
Ellen did a great job at capturing the atmosphere and cacophony of the building and squeezed it into a memorable 30 minutes. This is an MP3 of the broadcast documentary.



ROSS RIVER reflections - pigmentGALLERY


ROSS RIVER reflections
Level 2 Nicholas Building
fri 16 nov – fri 30 november
opening fri 16 nov 6-8pm
hrs: wed – fri 12-6 sat 12-4
an East MacDonnell Ranges kaleidoscope
Works by Vanessa Arandt, Peta Cross, Pam Darling, Marg Disney, Louise Einfeld, Janet Hardie, Pauline Healy, Jean Jacques Lale-Demoz, Jenny Johns, Tim Jones, Deborah Lauritz, Caroline McLeod, Pam O’Neil,  Jeannie Taylor,  Jan Weate,  John Wilson
Proposals now being accepted for 2008

End of Year exhibition / auction - pigmentGALLERY



End Of Year, Exhibition and Auction
Level 2 Nicholas Building
wed 12 dec – sat 22 december 2007
auction 20 december 6.30pm
hrs: wed – fri 12-6 sat 12-4

Open Studio - October 2007

More of the Nicholas Building's great Open Studio's
5-9pm Thursday/ Friday -  25/26 October 2007


Council to consider subsidising Artists Rents

October 25 2007 - Garry Shepherd

Kaye Hall Melbourne City Council marketing strategy program manager said it would be a sad irony if the core culture of the Flinders Lane area was lost in efforts to celebrate it.

"Forcing the area to become a precinct would be inappropriate, although the council could consider schemes such as subsidising artists rents"

Jack Taylor reported in the Melbourne Herald Sun...10 years ago September 10 1997.

I was going through some old files and found the "Pocket full of wonder" story I'd saved. "It's all about making the city a thriving and colorful place" A group of Lane locals (most now gone), "..hope to spark a revitalisation of the central business district, which is now living in the shadow of Southbank and Crown Casino" ...

"A Small pocket in the heart of Melbourne could be the start of something big. Behind the historic Young and Jackson Hotel - running between Swanston and Elizabeth streets, is a bustling little community trying to break out. The inhabitants soak up the inner-city lifestyle that includes cafes, shops and a culture all of it's own"

It's interesting the paper needed to explain where Flinders Lane was 10 years ago. Now this same area is the landmark surrounding districts take their reference from, as in "near Flinders Lane"

Today Council considers it appropriate to make the area a precinct and encourages us to get on down to funky town, or as they put it on the Council site "So slip on your funky threads, grab your best bag and head to the Flinders Quarter, Melbourne’s hippest strip."

  • Local Language Note. The Flinders Quarter is actually a retail traders association. If you were to ask where the 'Flinders Quarter" is, nobody could tell you. Locals call it Flinders Lane, and generally refer to the block between Swanston and Elizabeth streets, even though Flinders Lane is nearly 2 kilometers long.

  • Flinders 'Lane' also spawned the term 'Lane Culture' which now applies to all Lanes, alley's or little back streets in the Melbourne CBD with any sign of life.

So ... now we're looking forward to Council considering "subsidising artists rents" ... any decade now ;)


Artists Increase Property Values by 20%


September 11 2007 - Garry Shepherd


We’ve it done again. Nicholas Building artists have just had a 20% rent increase, due to the increase in market value of the building. Indicating that Nicholas Building artists are good for your financial health.
So what can we say? Buy Buy Buy :)


Council backs bid to keep artists in CBD

September 12 2007 - Garry Shepherd

Clay Lucas of Melbourne’s The Age has today reported of Melbourne City Council’s (MCC) support for artists in the CBD.

It’s very nice to see MCC community services committee chairman David Wilson not only taking an interest in us, but also giving some sort of formal recognition as to the benefit of Artists in the Melbourne CBD.

Thanks David, good to see Council is not just interested in parking tickets, business conventions, sporting events and Art, but the actual CBD Artist.

I am sure I am not alone in suggesting the Nicholas Building Artists would welcome a rent subsidy to enable us to stay in the already established Nicholas Building.

An immediate and much cheaper option than subsidising the refurbishment of an entire building somewhere else and hoping an arts community such as the Nicholas grows. Perhaps an idea for further discussion.

Alternatively if Council was interested in buying or leasing some of our artworks to adorn Council properties at some stage, that too would also go a long way to making our future presence in the CBD viable.

The Age report extract below. See full report.

Council backs bid to keep artists in CBD

Clay Lucas
September 12, 2007

WITHOUT weirdness, without difference, without tolerance, a city will die, wrote American economist Richard Florida in his book The Rise of the Creative Class.

Last night, Melbourne City Council took Florida's advice on the chin and approved the recommendations of a worrying new report, Housing the Arts in the City of Melbourne, commissioned by its arts and culture branch.

The report found that the same Melbourne artists who had been instrumental in bringing life back into the city — with buzzing laneways, boutique shops, small cafes and leading-edge businesses — were now being pushed out by rising rents and residential development.

"Without artists, we are losing the soul of the city," community services committee chairman David Wilson said yesterday. It was crucial the council acted now to stop the exodus, he said.

The Housing the Arts report found that the availability of low-cost studio accommodation was declining steeply in the city centre. If left unprotected, it would force the majority of artists out, the report said…

The Housing the Arts report was prompted last September when a group of artists at Centre House, in Flinders Lane, were evicted after more than a decade in the building. They had to make way for redevelopment. [See Centre House Shutdown]

The release of last night's strategy coincided with a rent hike for artists at one of the city's last remaining artists' centres, the Nicholas Building, in Swanston Street. Artists were told last week that their rents would rise by 20 per cent.


Lift Status:Unreliable and at times dangerous to life. 



14 December 2008. - Garry Shepherd

Oh here we go again, the Nicholas just can't help itself but get in the news again, such the drama queen !! Le Grande Madame of Flinders Lane.

About 15 years ago a lot of stencil artwork started appearing around the Lane, mostly by architect and design students. It was due to the sudden public access to the internet, especially at Uni's  and arts colleges around Melbourne.

There were massive libraries of clip art online to download and the downloaded clip art was treasured for it's rarity, exactly like Dj's did with vinyl records, and graphic artists do with fonts. Because of the monochrome designs, they were easily made into stencils.

You'd just print your photoshopped clipart stencil onto transparent acetate sheet and use an overhead projector to make any scale you wanted on your stencil material. Artschool 101 sort of thing.

You could also print your design on stickers, often with hand colouring to make it more unique. There were stickers everywhere, mostly in secretive nooks and crannies. This was for locals not tourists, this was the underground, we liked the idea of a treasure hunt down alley's etc. It was part of the Lane art community ethos.

It was usually first year VCA or RMIT students who were all excited about everything, they had studio's all around the Lane - great parties too. And all the facilities, layout tables etc to do this easily.

There were plenty of them in the Nicholas, invariably getting thrown out for living in their studio's and practising their stencil art in the passage ways. There were permanent toxic hazes around all their studios. You can still see the dried enamel over-spray covering dust on the old electricity wires in the passageways. A dead give away.

But the Nicholas was only half full in those days, we could leave our doors open knowing nothing would be stolen. It was a friendly open door building, we even had free access to the roof for our afternoon tea in the sunshine.

The roof was our social meeting place for the building. You'd start in the studio with an opening or just weekly drinks and roam up to the roof, chat with others make new friends. Half the building met each other on the roof, we had chairs old jewellers log stumps for tables etc. 10 floors up, you'd look eye ball to eyeball with the gargoyles on the cathedral across the road.  (Pic Below) A brilliant view at night when they're lit up, an urban faerieland, the fruit bats flying over the cathedral from the botanic gardens across the river at dusk into the sunset...ahhh.

We'd always have parties up there, every New Years Eve, stand among the fireworks echoing off the roof tops, while watching 500,000 people cram the streets below.

We were all oldskoolers from the Lane, all good friends and neighbours, about 300 of us living in half a dozen buildings between Swanston and Elizabeth streets, you could even leave the front security door unlocked on buildings at night without fear of intruders, that's how it was then, that's why we liked it.

Then the YoYo hommies from Sydney arrived and it was battle time.

The stencil work was far more interesting than the ghetto kitsch the out of town YoYo's were doing, so it was quickly assimilated into the YoYo's work and any pre existing stencil or sticker artwork was wiped out.

There were quite a few battles with these interlopers. Our building safety equipment got trashed, so did the roof, which was then permanently closed with a huge fire door and now an alarm.

We kept our doors closed and locked, the YoYo's moved in small packs and were physically violent, often completely smacked out on heroin, tagging our toilet walls with their blood from used syringes. These YoYo's were not street kids but in their 20's and 30's, usually living in wealthy suburbs, while renting out their own investment properties. Locally we call such people 'fakers' and 'posers', people you can't trust because their main intent is to deceive you.

It was not a happy place around 2000, it was the begining of the drunken violence culture that fills Melbourne streets every week end now.

I had all my CybaFaerie works destroyed in what later became City Lights off Centre Place, I even had one of my CybaFaerie sculptures stolen ( pic left).

I had to report it missing to the Flinders Lane Police HQ. 'I want to report a missing CybaFaerie' I announced to the desk cop, 'Have you got a picture ?' the desk cop immediately replied without batting an eyelid. I sure did,

I had an A4 poster with 'Have you seen this CybaFaerie' on it. I was about to post it all around the Lane. Well she should be easy to spot he said in all seriousness - Lane cops have brilliant poker faces. He made one phone call to a usual Lane suspect and the sculpture was returned within 5 mins. I hadn't even left the Police Station, I was still filling in statement details and there it was. I was impressed !

We at the Nicholas Building were starting to get a lot of mainstream media coverage at the time, newspaper articles, TV stories, fashion shoots, TV ads and of course our famous open studios.

Hoards of envious glory seekers from interstate started to pour in for YoYo 'Bomb fests' of the CBD. And growing legions of backpackers were touring the area.

One of them, Banksy it is rumoured.

Banksy was recently exposed as not being a poor street kid artist as he liked to make out, but an affluent Robin Gunningham 34, from the UK. Just another globe trotting rich-white-boy-playing-ghettos.

Fans of his work, including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, will be surprised that he comes from a privileged background... wrote Rob Davies, London, July 15, 2008 TELEGRAPH, AAP

Nobody cares if they are rich white boys, but if you try to pretend you're a poor street kid to boost your artwork prices, we call that Fraud in the art world - and in Law courts too.

I lived in my studio on the 7th floor just a few metres around the corner of where the dufflecoat diver appeared in the rear Lane of the Nicholas Building, which is called Cocker Alley.

I'd been there in the same studio for 10 years. The diver stencil was there much earlier than the Banksy visit 2002 (or 2003, dates vary) from my recollection.

In fact I always thought it was done by one of the local stencil artists. There were about 3 very prominent ones, all doing stencils in the same clipart style for years. They were very good. In fact many have suggested that it was the Lane stencil artists from the 1990's that inspired the young Banksy and prompted his visit from the other side of the world.

These pics below were shot by me at the rear alley (off Flinders Lane) of Commerce House 328 Flinders St in 1995. I lived in Commerce House from 1990-96, before moving to the Nicholas.

The stencil work is far superior to Banksy, with greater confidence and physical presence, 7 years before he ever came to Melbourne.

Before it closed down, Commerce House had the same international reputation for art as the Nicholas does today. It was frequently in the news, usually because of Police raids, pirate TV broadcasts, underground press etc and daily had international visitors to the fashion and arts businesses based there.

Commerce House was the original oldskool underground HQ. It closed years before the first cafe opened in Flinders Lane. It's the place that started the boom and set the tone for a contemporary urban underground culture.

It was only when Banksy hit the headlines a few years back making big bucks from his work, did the whole attribution of the diver stencil on the Nicholas Building appear, along with a rightfully placed question mark.

In Flinders Lane art culture, if the question mark is left unchallenged (ie sprayed over or amended), it means there is a majority agreeing with the doubt of the work being attributed to Banksy.

If left unchallenged for years, a very rare occurrence where full works usually disappear within a week, then the doubt is deemed proved.

Nobody has come forward to strike out the doubt, or provide verifiable proof that Banksy ever did it or was even in Australia at the time !

Not even those who made the Banksy claim in the first place. You'd expect them to be the first with proof, to back up their claims. But no, not a peep.

Thus after years of silence waiting for proof, even from Banksy himself, the work has been shown to be a Banksy fake, and street justice has been executed. That is the way of Flinders Lane art culture.

I'd suspect it was the original Lane stencil artist who has destroyed their work, rather than have it wrongfully attributed to Banksy, and fair enough too. Why should some rich kid from England profit at a Lane artists expense ?

Frauds are not tolerated in the Lane, and people who rip-off Lane artists are driven from the CBD. So bye bye Banksy, I doubt you ever did this work, but I don't doubt you are happy to exploit Lane artists for your own greed.

So here's today's front page article online of The Age

"The painter painted: Melbourne loses its treasured Banksy"

Clearly not 'treasured' by everyone.

You can see the question mark over the original (right side of pic), questioning the claim that this is done by Banksy, it appeared as soon as the claims did.

On the left what The Age describes as 'vandals' destroying the street art.

I'd first take offence at such a term. They clearly have no understanding of Flinders Lane Art culture.

That silver paint or 'Chrome' as it is usually called, is a sign of judgment by the Lane street art community.  The chrome drips are like blood drips signifying a wound, and the tag is the verdict of the judge.

This is street justice in the Lane. It's Judge Dredd country. It's public art, everyone is a legitimate critic and judge, everyone is THE LAW!  as Stallone's Judge Dredd would snarl.

Maybe the Lane has a little bit of bite left in it yet ?


Cocker Alley Rats

24 March 2009
Even the Nicholas Building rats are hitting the news now. They're quite a famous tourist attraction. The Rats are the size of cats in this neck of the woods. Big fearless water rats up from the storm water drain. They have a choice every night between Subway, KFC, McDonalds and 7/11 rubbish bins in the alley, with Nicholas Building cast offs. 
Rat Heaven locals call it. Where the fake Bansky was appropriately placed.
Read some locals comments and see the full news story in the Herald Sun

Studio's For Rent

The artist community, not only in the Nicholas Building but all of the CBD ended some years ago. There is still the odd jeweller working here and there, but the artists community network as such doesn't operate anymore.
Because of this we are sorry, but we can't help you with finding studio's any more. 
If you want to find out about rental space in the Nicholas Building, you will need to physically go to the building and ask around.
A WARNING These spaces are highly sought after and lobbying for a space is extremely competitive.  People who have a good studio in the Nicholas are in no hurry to leave. Most are career professionals who plan to stay until they retire.
If you are new to the arts industry, don't expect the red carpet to be rolled out for you. This is not a community arts centre, or student enclave. Arts/fashion is a brutal business environment, nobody wants to make it easy for competitors to set up shop on their turf. That's something you need to learn very quickly, and learn how to live with even quicker. You will need to fight to get in and fight to stay. Welcome to the big city.
In most cases for a shared studio you will need to wait years, yes years, 2-3 years typically. Usually someone already in the building will be on the waiting list long before new people get a shot.  
For a sole studio, 10+ years before there's a vacancy...if there's a vacancy. ...and be prepared to pay top dollar just for an empty concrete shell of a room 3mx3m, with no view and dodgy neighbours. 
For the prime studios, you need to wait for someone to retire and not pass it on to family members or close friends. - In my 10 years there, none came onto the open market. They were always gone before anyone knew they were availible. My studio was the only one, I didn't pass it on, I had offers but it was too expensive and had dangerous electricity wiring the owners refused to fix, even when power outlets exploded and caught fire...and that's a prime studio.
My advice is to look somewhere else. 



For Media enquiries and further (non rental) information about Nicholas Building Arts, Melbourne Shuffle and the CBD arts community...

contact: Garry Shepherd

website links


Text by Garry Shepherd

THE NICHOLAS BUILDING has been a creative hub for all kinds of arts practices and businesses, in the Melbourne CBD (Central Business District) for years.

With working artists studios and diverse creative community, it is was part of the Melbourne CBD community of artist buildings.

 The community of CBD artists living in their studios ceased to exist around 2006 after nearly 20 years in the Flinders Lane area.

Most artists have now moved out of town to fringe and regional areas, 1-2 hours drive from Melbourne.

We recommend TROUBLE arts magazine for current listings of open studios, exhibitions, festivals and artist contact details.

SeeGoogle Map



Pic: The same corner as main photo above, Flinders Lane and Swanston St, 1890 -State Library of Victoria



Designed by well known and respected architect Harris Norris in 1925/26. Norris had his offices in the building until 1955.

However there is some question as to how much is original Norris design and how much is preserved by Norris of the existing building on the site.

There is photgraphic evidence (picture above) of a remarkably simliar building on the same site around 1890.

On close examination an ornate victorian entrance structure exists on the Flinders Lane side( click picture detail to enlarge)in exactly the same location where the arcade exists today. The decorative structure no longer exists, but the arcade entrance does.

Suggesting the arcade in fact dates from the existing building some 30 years earlier than the 1926 Nicholas Building, and has been preserved by Norris and the Nicholas family.

The Nicholas Building arcade, which is very 'Victorian' in style is not the sort of thing one would expect from a new 1920's building. Considered quite old fashioned in the roaring 20's of the newly proclaimed nation of Australia (1901) of which Melbourne was the first capital city.

There has been no accurate history done of the site pre 1926, and most of the history of the building comes from plans of redevelopments and extensions from 1930's onwards.

Both from outside and inside, it appears the ground, 1st and 2nd floors have been preserved from the existing building and structurally modified to accomodate the later additional floors above.

Inside there is a distinct change from the 3rd floor upwards. The street level arcade and same design with vaulted lead light ceiling on the 1st floor arcade, salon on the 2nd floor and marble staircase joining them, are more typically Victorian in style, and different to the more deco 1930's inspired floors above.

To me it appears that the existing building with victorian arcades, was of such significant importance to Harry Norris and the Nicholas family, that they were preserved in the new structure dating from 1926.

A significance sadly lost (for the time being) on us today. 

An interesting research topic, no doubt some architect may do some more research one day ;)



The Nicholas Building was part of the Flinders Lane community which from 1990, saw hundreds of artists living in their studio's in this block alone (pic below), in so called 'underutilised buildings'. 

Pic: Rooftop view from Carlow House looking east, of the central Flinders Lane area and main artist buildings (G.Shepherd 2004)


Property redevelopers spotting this trend took over the buildings (evicting artists in the process) to imitate the artists studio living, and a multi billion dollar residential apartment boom lasting 15 years was triggered. Only brought to an end by the 2008 global recession.

The artists had initiated a complete cultural and financial transformation of Melbourne. In a magnitude not witnessed since the 1800's gold rush.

Financial sectors dubbed the boom the Second Gold Rush. Prior to the artists moving in, the CBD was not residential, but strictly and only for business.



In the 1990's Flinders Lane, once just a back alley used for deliveries, became a vibrant creative community based around the artists living and working there. Cafe's sprang up, fashion shop's opened and art galleries relocated from Melbourne's established arts districts, all to be part of this new city Laneway era.

For many years, the area was only known to insiders, and became a secret enclave for Melbourne's cultural elite, new residents and urban adventurers

 In the early 2000's, the Flinders Lane buzz began featuring as a 'best kept secret' in network television tourist specials and was heralded in TV advertisements by the Lord Mayor of Melbourne as 'what Melbourne is about '.



Pic: City of Melbourne map with the Nicholas Building featured



This once run down 'black hole' area became a trophy exhibit and model for contemporary urban living.

The sense of a village community around the Lane was a welcomed surprise. Many did not believe this sort of thing possible in a contemporary cut throat corporate city. The Lane was a safe friendly intimate environment where you could easily strike up a conversation with strangers on the narrow streets.

Pic: Centre Place off Flinders Lane

Even major CBD shopping complexes, redeveloped to include 'Laneways' with outdoor cafes to imitate this booming Flinders Lane area.

Today, LANE CULTURE, once a covert bohemian enclave is now a mainstream cultural phenomenon, representing adventurous urban sophistication.









Pic above: from Australia's biggest selling daily newspaper The Herald Sun - "Televison presenter, model and former Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins wowed passers-by in the city yesterday as she shot a new commercial for Myer. Picture: Jay Town"



Sadly the original Flinders Lane artist community has now gone.

One would be hard pressed to bump into an original Lane artist these days. There can still be the odd artist toiling away in their studio but the popularity for the CBD the artists had created, also forced the artists out.

By the early 2000's the golden 1990's era was well past. Most artists found there was no future for them in the Lane. Living in your studio was banned by new Melbourne City Council (MCC) regulations which also banned using your living space for art studio work.

Original artist studio's disappeared and re-emerged as Studio Apartments. The term 'Studio Apartment' is just window dressing for apartment sales, to capture the romance of the arts community. They can not be used as working artists studio's.

Following the new residents, a stampede of shonky 'artist bars' opened ( about 1 a week for years) to exploit the artists kudos.

The bars offered building owners huge rents and cruely evicted the few artists left, with the MCC blessings, liquor planning permits and often MCC redevelopment  money.

It was MCC policy to evict artists from 'underutilised buildings' and support the building's redevelopment with cash grants to developers.

The bars usually controlled the exhibition spaces as well, charging artists hefty fees to exhibit where they once worked and lived.

The artists frequently boycotted these places and many bars went broke.

But the MCC kept issuing bar licenses with no thought to the social cost to the CBD residents, who were increasingly afraid to leave their homes at night due to the violence on CBD streets.

By early 2008 Police described the mess as "alcohol-fuelled anarchy" requesting tasers and gallons of capsicum spray to assist arrests with "72% of Melbourne residents" believing the violence was increasing. 

Despite some on MCC such as community services committee chairman David Wilson protesting "Without artists, we are losing the soul of the city," greedy local and state governments were more interested in exploiting the Lane tourist traffic than preserving the actual artist community, these tourists had come to see.

So with no where to live or work, local artists were forced to leave the area, and the artist community collapsed.

The final shutdown for the artists of the Lane area and by default for all CBD artists, was November 2006 in Centre House (Pic above)

All the Centre House artists were evicted on 30 days notice. Some artists had been in the same studio for 15 years. I had a studio there 1991-92.

Centre House still stands empty today. Sadly, it seems it is better to have an empty building than have artists in it, in todays Melbourne.

 You can see pictures of the final party here at CENTRE HOUSE SHUTDOWN

For original Lane artists and friends, it was a time to say goodbye, a time to once more do what we had done for nearly 20 years, but knew it was over now.

A similar fate happened to Commerce House in 1996, another great artist building of the era. COMMERCE HOUSE

In November 2006, the community of artist buildings was now reduced to one, the Nicholas Building. By definition one building is not a community of buildings, even with just 2, it was stretching the term a bit.

So after nearly 20 years, we decided to 'call it a day' and move on. Nobody was really excited about the CBD anymore.

Melbourne was rated the 'worlds most livable city' when the artists community was there.

But after successive years of bad planning, bad management and neglect, the Bracks/Brumby State Government and Lord Mayor John So's MCC had destroyed the soul of the city and turned it into an embarassing low rated tourist trap where stabbings and random violence in the CBD, are routine occurances.

It is not the place artists, or most others choose to be any more. Melbourne's CBD recently came a very low 574 of 590 on the national quality-of-life index.

UPDATE It is now called a CITY OF VIOLENCE



Melbourne CBD street art was based on the principle of using reclaimed objects and materials, found in the street. In art terms it was site specific installation art

It came from early artists using found/discarded commercial and industrial materials to build and decorate their studio living spaces.

Artists would also decorate the lanes and alleyways where they lived with the same materials.

This was a continuation of the same principle employed by artists moving into disused and abandoned office buildings and turning them into homes.

These actions and this principal created the 'Living City' Melbourne later became famous for

We wanted to become part of the urban environment, to experience it emmersively, to blend in with the existing ambience, not over power it. 

It was the same respect shown for the constructed environment, as the natural one.

There was a great love and respect of old urban architecture, the color of the bricks, the stonework, the general wear and tear on iron and paint work. In part, due to the quality of the original workmanship, and also the history contained in the wear of the object, it's story.

Many nooks and crannies were famous within the artist communities, and alteration of the existing structures was forbidden.

The objects and materials found in the street, lanes and alleys, industrial waste skips etc, often ended up in jewellery or assemblage sculptural works. Buyers were facinated with the origins and stories the pieces told.

The art style was widely known as 'Remade In Melbourne'.

The skill was based on preserving the inherent quality of the original object, while presenting it in a new and original context.

Melbourne CBD street art should not be confused with the graffiti which was never part of the original Lane culture that gave new life to the CBD.

Rather, the graffiti was the product of rich-white-boys-playing-ghettos. They were not locals but from out of town, Sydney mostly, and invaded the CBD around 2000 to exploit the widespread popularity of existing CBD artists.

It was literally a fantasy role playing game for self serving nerdy white guys in their 20's/30's who lived in affluent suburbs, to pretend they were poor African American kids living in a New York ghetto in the early 1980's.

Usually referred to with the derogatory term YoYo's, because of their immature behavior and their habit of over using 'Yo' with a fake American accent.

The graffiti game was seen by Lane artists and the wider population, as embarrassing and exploitative tourist ghetto kitsch that tragically wiped out the original Melbourne CBD street art.

Existing CBD street art and culture was seen as the enemy target to be irradicated in the YoYo's game, literally a cultural genocide.

There were instances when these YoYo's would gang up and violently assaulted real street kids, such as a homeless 15 year old girl known as 'Chromy', so they could set up an illegal bar to sell beer for their graffiti event.

When confronted, the YoYo's justified their actions by saying 'She's just a street kid, nobody will miss her, nobody cares about her'.

 They were very wrong.The local cafes and artists scorned these gutless bullyboys and drove them from the central Lane area.

The original CBD artists and cafes would in total contrast, support the real street kids with free blankets, food and friendship, daily caring for their safety and well being.



While the artists have left the Melbourne CBD, their legacy has not disappeared. The underground culture of the original artists has been adopted globally by a new youth generation, to the point it is replacing hip-hop in America.

The exciting art, fashion and dance, along with an inclusive, non sexist, non racist, non violent attitude which came from this Melbourne CBD arts community, is now admired and practiced in many 1000's of cities around the world.

The original Lane culture is today most recognisable by it's street dance style, called the Melbourne Shuffle. Culture members call themselves Shufflers.

From Islamic states to the USA, Asia, Europe, UK, South America to Iceland, Shufflers celebrate a friendly safe and welcoming culture that revels in diversity; all languages, all nations, religions, races,all abilities and ages. All are valid and equal cultural entities, in the Melbourne Shuffle.

See 'SHUFFLE! The Movement  and PHATS ! for more information, pictures, videos and interviews with original Lane Artists, and for the online novel about the original CBD artists community, see - CYbA TRYb