Artistic community waves goodbye to popular art space

By Brendan Rees

After a near-decade of helping grow the careers of emerging artists, a popular experimental arts space in Southbank will be farewelled as it prepares to call the Queen Victoria Market precinct its new home.

Testing Grounds, which is tucked away between the Arts Centre and Australian Ballet Centre, has proven vital for emerging artists to test, develop, and share their work since it was established as a temporary activation in 2013.   

An initiative of Creative Victoria and funded by the state government, the art space has grown in popularity, having hosted hundreds of projects, workshops, and events while providing a public space for people to gather.  

Since its early days, Testing Grounds has expanded with a full renovation having been undertaken in 2016 at its Southbank site, revealing a new look, more covered spaces, and improved infrastructure.

But last month, the state government announced that it would be moving Testing Grounds from Southbank to the Queen Victoria Market precinct where it would become a “key feature” of the new Market Square pop-up park by the end of the year.

The Market Square pop-up park is part of the first stage of works to transform the market’s asphalt car park into 1.75 hectares of public space.

In a statement, the government said it was “relocating and expanding” Testing Grounds “as part of the recovery and revitalisation of the city, providing a boost for local creatives”.

Visual artist and fashion designer Chelsea Hickman, who attended Testing Grounds for events and workshops and to exhibit her fashion collection, said she was “saddened” that Testing Grounds would be relocating, adding it was positioned in a “special location” close to National Gallery of Victoria and the Arts Centre.

“My experiences with Testing Grounds have been nothing but positive and inspirational. It offered emerging artists a position to be alongside established arts institutions,” she said.

“The team at Testing Grounds is flexible, open-minded and understanding which makes for a safe space for artists to test ideas in varying capacities. This is very beneficial to me as an emerging artist.”

“The outcomes of having the freedom to create in this way is invaluable to artists, and provides unique experiences and engagements with the broader community.”

“Having said that, I’m curious and excited to see how the new Testing Grounds space responds to the location at Queen Victoria Market.”

Arie Glorie, the practice program director of Testing Grounds, said the art space had played a “quite significant” role in Southbank for the past eight years, and was “humbled” by people who “really take it on and make it their own”.

“Testing Grounds is one of Victoria’s most important and innovative arts incubators, providing creatives with the space to test, develop and share their work with the community,” he said.

“We also say to the community – you made Testing Grounds what it is, we’re just here opening the doors.”

“Its main aim was to really clean up the site, it was an abandoned car park, and we wanted to provide some community access, almost like a park and to research its possible future use.”

After the 2016 renovation, Mr Glorie said new additions included a “big-gridded super structure” which was “very much in response to seeing people always wanting to put cords along the ground and going ‘well, actually we can just put all of that up’.”

Mr Glorie added the social side of the Southbank site was equally important where “artists didn’t necessarily have to be making a project.”

“It’s very unique in that we were able to light fires as well … that was really great for people to come sit around and chat.”

In terms of Testing Grounds being relocated, Mr Glorie welcomed the news, saying it would help grow their audience.

“It’s amazing. We know our audience is just increasing massively ... the Queen Victoria Market just offers massive exposure to their ideas and their ways of working,” he said.

“It truly becomes an even more public art and public space than ever before. People can get to sit there, hang out, they can watch people do talks, performances, and exhibitions.”

According to the government, Testing Grounds will run a creative hub at its new home, with local artists, and work with the City of Melbourne and the Queen Victoria Market on installations and events to drive creative opportunities and visitation.

The expanded experimental arts space will be funded for the next two years through the $100 million Melbourne City Recovery Fund – a partnership between the state government and the City of Melbourne.

Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the new site would “entice people back to the city and play an important role in Melbourne’s economic recovery” • 

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