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Melbourne 2016 ISPA Congress - Robyn's Walk

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Robyn's Walk 

Take a walking tour of Melbourne's Cultural Precinct guided by ISPA member Robyn Archer AO!

It’s not succinct or contained

but it can be traced and understood. Melbourne’s cultural precinct is linear: you can walk it and be entertained the whole way.

There was a time when you could not see the Arts Centre Melbourne from the other side of the river: the river created a distance between art and the vibrant city centre. But when the tall industrial edifices on the banks of the Yarra made way for Federation Square, the perceived division disappeared. When Federation Square removed its construction barriers, and the people of Melbourne, in one immediate swoop, adopted the ochre-toned stone floor (Nearamnew – with its physically embedded stories) as their civic gathering place, you could see Fed Square from the Arts Centre, and the Arts Centre from Fed Square. The gap was gone, and its absence made way for one continuous cultural path which now leads from The Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) in South Melbourne all the way to the University of Melbourne’s galleries and performance spaces in Carlton. 

In between you have the Malthouse Theatre and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art(ACCA), with dance company Chunky Move’s rehearsal space, then the Victorian College of the Arts, the ABC (the national radio and tv broadcaster), and the Melbourne Recital Centre next to the Melbourne Theatre Company. Cross one road and you arrive at the Myer Music Bowl, cross another and you are at the National Gallery of Victoria International, and that’s next door to the Arts Centre Melbourne and then Hamer Hall (the large scale concert hall). If we didn’t stop to duck inside or see a performance or exhibition, this is all in about 15 minutes’ walk or 5 minutes’ tram-ride. Over the bridge and the road you arrive into Federation Square which opened in 2003 and now has around ten million visitors a year. It is the place where you gather, whether to celebrate or protest, and it houses the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), the National Gallery of Victoria Australia (largest collection of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in the world), the Koorie Heritage Trust, Kirra Glass Galleries and the Melbourne Festival. Cross Flinders Street from Fed Square and you are directly into the commercial theatre district at that vast folly The Forum

Flinders St. StationFrom one corner of Fed Square you are directly opposite Melbourne’s Flinders St Station where people have been meeting ‘under the clocks’ for more than a century. By now you are also deep into the heart of Melbourne’s bustling retail, café and restaurant precinct. Every step a store, an established café or pop-up for some of the best coffee in the world and the legendary laneways which have become a canvas for brilliant street art. Within this inner city grid you find many theatres and performing arts spaces, as well as smaller galleries. Melbourne has a thirst for musicals – and there are at least four or five huge theatres where they play. Further up you find the Melbourne Town Hall which is used for the Melbourne Comedy Festival, RMIT (the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) and its variety of spaces, and, capping off  the riches of Swanston Street, is the magnificent State Library and The Wheeler Centre for books, writing and ideas, denoting Melbourne’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature.

Just on the other side of the Central Business District (CBD) grid is Trades Hall, another historic venue hosting comedy, music and theatre, and we’re still only another 20 minutes on, if you haven’t stopped for coffee or a glass of delicious Australian wine or lingered in the many restaurants of a thriving Chinatown. But if you head on up to Carlton you find the Melbourne Museum, the glorious old Exhibition Building and then La Mama and the University of Melbourne’s Potter Museum of Art and Melba Hall.

All in all if you simply traversed that rich linear precinct in one of the city’s gorgeous trams, it would take you no more than fifteen or twenty minutes. But for the flaneur it offers days of pleasure. I hope that’s what ISPA delegates will do as the congress is hosted right in the middle at Arts Centre Melbourne and Federation Square.

This city was once known as Marvelous Melbourne: many think that’s still a very apt title. Having spent five years living in Melbourne when I was the Artistic Director of the Melbourne Festival, spending a bit more time there these days, and having played on almost every stage the city offers (and some of the cracks in between – including the one where remnants of the girdle which held my microphone for A Star is Torn melted into the pavement outside the stage door when we ceremonially set it on fire after the 100th performance at The Comedy Theatre), I can proudly claim that this feels like My Marvelous Melbourne. I know David Baile was starting to feel as if he belonged too in his most recent visit. Melbourne is bound to have that effect on you too.

We can’t wait to welcome you. 

Robyn Archer AO


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