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When artists meet developers

QueenStSydney-based arts organisation Queen Street Studio teamed up with developer Frasers Property to make temporary use of a vacant property, proving that such collaborations can be a win-win for all involved.

14 August 2011

One of the biggest challenges facing arts organisations is generating enough funds to pay for a space in which to exhibit or perform works.

Queen Street Studio is a member-based, non-profit organisation in Chippendale, Sydney, which provides studio space run by artists for artists. Funded by the City of Sydney and Arts NSW, Queen Street Studio also produces training programs for Sydney’s independent performing arts community as well as residency programs for both the performing and visual arts sectors.

As of May 2010 Queen Street Studio is five years old. It began operating out of a space on Queen Street in Chippendale in 2005. In July 2008 the City of Sydney and developer Frasers Property approached the studio’s owners Sam Chester and James Winter with a proposal to collaborate.

The project

City of Sydney and Frasers Property offered Queen Street Studio a huge warehouse space also in Chippendale for a temporary period of initially one year until 2009 although this has since been extended until 2011. Sam and James jumped at the chance and in September 2008 moved into what is now FraserStudios which Queen Street Studio made into a new multi-disciplinary art space supported by Frasers Property.

The artist's perspective: Sam Chester, Queen Street Studio

“We opened the space in September 2009 and put the visual arts residencies up first,” says Sam. “Within a month we had our first round of about 12 visual artists.”

Located at 10-14 Kensington Street, Chippendale, the project boasts one rehearsal space Studio14 for performing artists, an exhibition space Studio 12 and a shared space Studio 10 for arts business.

The agreement

The project is on a formal year-by-year lease except Sam and James pay no rent or service charges. “Frasers kindly gives us free use of the space and they pay for the services such as water and electricity,” Sam explains.

Queen Street Studio pays for its own public liability insurance for the whole building as well as theft insurance. Frasers Property also took out their own public liability to cover the visual arts residents. Queen Street Studio pays for all outgoings like rubbish removal, general consumables, some work on the building to make it viable like the studio foor which was $6000 and all artist fees and wages.

Also part of the agreement is that Frasers Property looked after all the development applications to allow Sam and James to activate the space. This is an important aspect that needs to be part of a formal agreement with a developer to avoid creative enterprises being bogged down with complicated DAs, according to Sam.

“We went in and it was filled with cages so we asked Frasers to get rid of everything, which they did,” she says. “They also created a bathroom area and a wall, painted one of the rooms and cleaned the space. We came in and built a rehearsal room and put in other infrastructure and Frasers were happy for us to do this. They were amazing in taking care of the DA applications.”


One of the major challenges of working with a developer from Sam’s perspective is a perception by the arts sector that Queen Street Studio had lost its independence.

“It’s more the perception of the arts sector, so people think Queen Street Studio is funded by Frasers, but we’re not – we’re project funded by the City of Sydney and Arts NSW. We do get one cash donation a year from Frasers which is $10,000, but the rest is funded and run by Queen Street Studio, so that’s been a big challenge in terms of branding and ensuring that Queen Street Studio hasn’t lost its independence by being inside FraserStudios.

“Getting that message across has been tricky especially since we weren’t able to retain our name on the building.”

But while the space may be called FraserStudios, the developer takes a hands-off approach to the activities happening in the space. “There’s no censorship by Frasers,” Sam says. “We run the space pretty much as we did our original studio on Queen Street.”

Landing a huge rent-free space reaped plenty of benefits, but also yielded some challenges in terms of time and operations. “The operations are so much more massive – we have three studios and two floors of visual artists, so the expectations from artists are so much more, but we’re still running on pretty much the same budget as for one studio,” says Sam.

“Space is a liability – FraserStudios is five times the size of what we originally had, so the cost to me, James and our visual arts coordinator Peter Volich in terms of volunteer time is huge. It’s a full-time job what we’re doing and five times the amount of work, which was a big shock.”

Lessons learned

“It’s been a fantastic experience,” Sam enthuses. “Our vision was to be a provider of subsided space and creative development. We wanted to go in and create temporary spaces that create opportunities for others.

“Strategically if councils or developers want temporary spaces to be used they have to back the initiative in a meaningful way, so it has to be a subsided space and there needs to be a cash injection to the organisations to help them, and be ongoing. I’m into artists being entrepreneurial but if the outcomes that are generated in that space are [to be] amazing, you have to support the organisations, people and artists to make that happen.”

Sam and James have secured another temporary site at the old Heffron Hall in Darlinghurst through a city of Sydney accommodation grant, which opens in June 2010 and will be available for three years.

Working with Frasers has been an excellent way to experiment with ideas and see what works. “Our long-term objective is to buy a building so we’ve started a building campaign to secure somewhere where we can have both visual and performance artists like with Frasers,” says Sam.

“The FraserStudios site is somewhat utopic – we’ll never get that square meterage again in the middle of the city but it’s really affirmed to us that as an organisation we can do both: we can do our transitional model and move into a permanent space as well as temporarily use empty spaces.”

The developer's perspective: Lisa McCutchion, Frasers Property

Lisa McCutchion, group marketing manager, at Frasers Property explains why the partnership with Queen Street Studio is beneficial and the template for future community partnerships.

FraserStudios is Frasers Property Australia’s first foray into arts sponsorship.

Space is Frasers’ business, so it seemed logical that space would be Frasers’ gift to the Chippendale arts community.

Queen Street Studio, a Chippendale-based community arts organisation, works at the coal face of the independent arts community and grapples with the scarcity of space – for rehearsal, for project development, for art-making – every day.

FraserStudios is a temporary activation of warehouses that would otherwise sit vacant for several years, awaiting restoration as part of a property development called ‘Central Park’.

Frasers provides space, running costs and seed capital for FraserStudios, while Queen Street Studio contributes management and curatorial expertise, community networks and their own operational funding.

Once Frasers bought the old Carlton United Brewery site in Chippendale we suddenly owned an entire street of houses and warehouses, all vacant. We knew from our community consultations that the arts were valued here yet space for art-making was being lost to development, so we decided to create a temporary arts space.

Initially, we thought it was just a matter of finding some artists to fill the space, but quickly realised that a ‘property management’ model wouldn’t create the kind of street-level activation and community engagement we imagined. We needed an arts partner, so the City of Sydney’s Kiersten Fishburn gave us a list of local arts collectives to have a chat to.

The biggest thing we had to learn was that space is easy to give away but expensive to run.

When Frasers first imagined this project, we thought our gift of space was wonderfully benevolent. In our first meeting, Queen Street Board Member, Michelle Kotevski, pragmatically told us that space without money to run it is a liability, and a lost opportunity. Artists don’t live on air and imagination, and space needs to be managed to be effective.

Frasers offered $10,000 annually to kick off the project, and further funding has been received from Arts NSW, the City of Sydney and Queen Street’s own resources.


Frasers’ enjoys a host of benefits from FraserStudios, including:

  • Positive goodwill amongst the local Chippendale community, which was initially - and traditionally - distrustful of developers.
  • Positive goodwill amongst our development and planning stakeholders, including the City of Sydney and the NSW Department of Planning. Mayor Clover Moore officially opened FraserStudios in October 2008, and speaks publicly and with great enthusiasm about our project.

Other benefits include:

  • Creating a ‘creative and cultural’ character for the future development precinct.
  • Directly addressing the topical issue of arts spaces being lost to urban development.
  • Activation of a disused portion of the development site in the years prior to work commencing.
  • Extensive, positive media coverage.

The relationship

Although Frasers and Queen Street Studio are very different organisations they both wholeheartly see the potential of space.  That given the right circumstances – in this case, FraserStudios –something can grow that is new, innovative, imaginative, beautiful and even controversial.

Looking back on the first 18 months of FraserStudios, it’s clear that Frasers didn’t immediately realise what Queen Street Studio could bring to the project: their passionate commitment to quality programming and their big picture plans for artist development. It also took us a few months to understand their absolute need not to risk their organisation’s hard-won financial stability.


FraserStudios was conceived as a temporary space from the beginning, informing the structure of Queen Street Studio's programs and the character of the space.

We started cautiously with a 12-month brief, extended for a second year and Frasers have now committed to providing the space for a third year before re-development of Kensington Street begins.

The greatest risk for Frasers is that in delivering this hugely popular space we will create a sense of permanent entitlement, and risk a negative backlash when the project inevitably closes.

Queen Street Studio's thoughtful short-term residency structure is designed to ameliorate this risk, and we are planning a series of public events to mark the conclusion of the project in a properly celebratory fashion.

Nevertheless, the risk remains, but Frasers have taken the position that some risk is better than allowing yet more buildings to sit vacant for want of imagination.

Temporary activations of unused space are on the government’s arts agenda. FraserStudios is being followed with close interest by the City of Sydney and Arts NSW, both keenly interested in developing models for successful corporate/arts partnerships of this kind.

It’s important to both Frasers and Queen Street Studio that ‘temporary’ doesn’t imply that the space isn’t valuable, or that this project is less legitimate than long-term partnerships.

Managing the partnership

FraserStudios is managed day to day by Queen Street Studio, with Frasers taking a back seat in respect and recognition of Queen Street’s expertise as arts producers and community arts advocates.

Frasers’ staff step in to assist during Open Days, and provide public relations and logistical support during events, plus day to day property maintenance. Queen Street Studio staff will call on Frasers if they have a new program or special request, in which case Queen Street Studio will e-mail a brief outline of the event or request, and seek either approval or additional funding.

It’s an informal structure in some respects. Frasers doesn’t feel the need to oversee Queen Street Studio's management of FraserStudios – they’re experts, and our contribution, while significant, doesn’t give us ‘controlling rights’ of their activities. I trust the Queen Street staff to call on me when they need me, and to keep me in the loop, and it works well.

First of many partnerships

We believe that what Frasers and Queen Street Studio are doing at FraserStudios will be a template for future partnerships between developers and arts producers, proving the point that this type of temporary activation is possible, mutually beneficial, and extraordinarily rewarding.

We view FraserStudios as a pilot project for future sites and partnerships. While FraserStudios will come to an end in December 2011, we now have a great appetite for similar such projects.

After establishing FraserStudios, we were approached by a local food co-op, seeking space for their community venture. Our experience with Queen Street Studio prompted us to say ‘why not?’, so Kensington Street now also hosts a Food Co-op. It’s not art, but it is creative community development, and a direct impact of our successful partnership with Queen Street Studio.

Image: Big hART’s Project 'Gold'; photo by Arunus Klupsas via Queen Street Studios.

This article first appeared on the Empty Spaces website, an initiative funded the NSW government through Arts NSW and the University of Technology, Sydney and is reproduced here under a Creative Commons licence.

Operated by the UTS Shopfront Community Program, the Empty  Spaces project aims to promote short-term reuses of empty shops and spaces for creative and community development by publishing tools for empty space coordinators to start a 'pop-up' initiative in their community, success stories, information for landlords and local government about creative space reuse for local development and an online community to share knowledge.

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