Redevelopment plans put Meat Market in a tight squeeze

Concerns arise over the ‘minimal consultation’ in the potential reallocation of space at one of Melbourne’s most established venues-for-hire in the independent sector.

A proposal to partially reclaim a significant venue-for-hire in Melbourne’s independent art scene has recently come to light.

According to an anonymous source, Creative Victoria is seeking to reclaim half of the main space, the Flat Floor Pavilion, of North Melbourne’s Meat Market, a cherished creative and heritage space for many independent artists and events.

The Flat Floor Pavilion will be redeveloped to provide a home for Orchestra Victoria, while the remaining space, the Cobblestone Pavilion, will continue to be used by the City of Melbourne for venue hire.

When asked for comment, a Creative Victoria spokesperson told ArtsHub: ’Creative Victoria is exploring a range of options to secure a home base for Orchestra Victoria.

‘We are working to ensure the Meat Market remains a vibrant venue for independent artists, and a wide range of festivals and events.’

However, the anonymous source claimed ’this decision has been done with minimal consultations with the venue and with no outreach to independent artists’.

The initial decision was brought to the Meat Market team’s attention around 24 September, ’although there were rumours and speculation around before then’.

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While Creative Victoria, City of Melbourne and Meat Market say they are trying to support both the operations of Orchestra Victoria and independent activities at the venue, the segmentation of the space will ultimately put restrictive parameters on future exhibitions and events.

‘If Meat Market can’t operate the venue, the Melbourne arts scene will be losing an important and necessary venue, as well as removing a viable place of employment for the many casual technicians that are on the payroll,’ said the anonymous source.

The importance of the Meat Market

Regarding the venue’s significance to the Melbourne arts scene, artist Claire Bridge said: ’The Meat Market is a great venue for independent artists. I was fortunate to secure the Meat Market Stables earlier this year, supported by a grant I’d received from City Of Melbourne.

‘With venues scarce and so many of the ARIs (artist run initiatives) and other spaces booked solid with shows backlogged from pandemic lockdowns, I decided to invite some fellow artists to exhibit with me and share the opportunity for our show Vas Holos. Having affordable and central spaces to show is critical to independent artists. It was a really successful exhibition and has in part led to me being included in the upcoming NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) exhibition Melbourne Now 2023.’

Fellow artist Nina Sanadze added: ’Meat Market is one of Melbourne’s most important museum-quality exhibition spaces that is available for artists to stage independent and large-scale, ambitious projects. I was lucky to exhibit there in May 2022 and with the arts funding cuts and many exhibition spaces now closed, artists would have nowhere to show work.’

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At the time of reporting, City of Melbourne had not offered any formal comment on the proposed move.

Meat Market is home to the the First Nations-led Yirramboi Festival (slated to return May 2023) and a venue for the Melbourne Fringe Festival, among a plethora of independent theatre, performances and exhibitions.

This year it hosted the Other Art Fair, with more than 100 artists across both the Cobblestone and Flat Floor Pavilion. This event is also scheduled to return in 2023 .

Meat Market is one of the few venues for hire in Melbourne that features a circus truss, which enables it to accommodate aerial and circus performances in the Cobblestone Pavilion.

Francesco Minniti, Head of Design at After Dark Theatre, which hosted the 2 Cities circus hub for Melbourne Fringe 2021, told ArtsHub: ‘Doing something like that would render the Meat Market useless for any larger functions. This is a ridiculous idea.’

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne. Instagram: @lleizy_