Goodbye from Blender Studios

Goodbye from Blender Studios

In 1886 the new channel from Port Melbourne to the city was complete.

This saw the beginnings of what was to become known as the West Melbourne Dock area. Building the new docks was a huge undertaking with mass excavation on a level that up until 1886 had been unprecedented. The West Melbourne swamp had 2,308,247 cubic yards of dirt taken from it to create the new dock areas that helped the city become more flexible and take many more ships. The Victoria Docks, once finished, redefined the landscape of Melbourne, changing the direction of the Yarra River and making a vast harbour (Victoria Harbour).

Victoria Harbour and Docklands was, at one point, Australia’s biggest harbour servicing much of Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne. Even before the opening of the Bolte Bridge, by the Kennett government in 1999, the Docklands area had turned into a derelict wasteland of abandoned sheds and broken-down wharfs. In the mid-1980s the plans were drawn up by the Victorian Government to create a new suburb that connects Melbourne’s CBD to its waterfront.

Development Victoria managed the development of Melbourne’s Docklands from its beginning. In July 2007 Docklands became part of the City of Melbourne. This was a good for the Docklands as the City of Melbourne is very community focused and it has done a good job fixing many of the problems and creating policies that are specific for Docklands.

The Docklands Melbourne, is Australia’s largest urban renewal project and it has been continuously under construction for nearly 25 years. Currently over two-thirds of the planned developments are completed. Docklands is 190 ha (44 ha of water and 3.7 ha of open space).

It is expected that the Docklands project will be completed, from start to finish, in 25 years.

There was one main original design for the Docklands. It was European in style. Canals were planned as was public space and a couple of suburbs.

However, there was a reduction in community focus and a shift towards “finance architecture”. Finance architecture is the term given to buildings where the design isn’t as important as profit.

After the initial opening and the fanfare, people stopped coming. People didn’t respond to Docklands. It was a real shift in style from what Melbourne was used to aesthetically.

There has been much improvement in the past 10 years in Docklands, with the City of Melbourne taking over. But there is still a negative perception by Melburnians that Docklands is cold, boring and windswept. This perception is slowly changing but it may take generations to truly shift.

Around two years ago Blender Studios relocated from its gritty urban origins surrounded by laneways in Franklin St. After calling our Franklin St warehouse home for over 16 years, the studio was forced to relocate due to rental increases and development. (To honour the studios the City of Melbourne has now named the lane next to the Franklin St studio Blender Lane.)

The move into Harbour Town Shopping Centre, was a cultural shock as the difference between the dirty laneways of Melbourne and a stark clean shopping centre in Melbourne’s Docklands was challenging for our 28 artists. Co-opted for its subsidiary potential to rejuvenate space and contribute to urban gentrification, Blender has become an artistic oasis in a commercialised environment.

Since Blender moved into Harbour Town Shopping Centre much has changed. After the first six months, the Docklands Art Precinct administered by Renew Australia had filled all the remaining shops with awesome and interesting art craft, studios and galleries.

Over the past two years the once-empty spaces in the east wing have filled up with galleries and became a major art precinct.

It is an unusual collaboration between Blender and the corporate entity, Harbour Town Shopping Centre, which in 2017 rebranded under the name The District. The Blender Studios’ relationship with the centre has gone through many changes and the cultural difference between The Blender artists and the management at The District has, at times, required patience, but has overall been interesting and successful.

I think what has transpired at the newly-named The District has become really important and a fantastic case study of the currency of culture.

The District has changed considerably over the last two years. From the beginning, Blender’s relationship with The District was a close working relationship. We have been through many changes at the centre, like the installation of the new roof, the rebranding of the name to The District, the opening of the cinema and the new H&M store (and let’s not forget the giant ice slide.) They are doing some big things to make The District cool.

The largest project that Blender created collaboratively with the District Docklands, was at the “cut-out”, a large disused block of land that had two abandoned cars in it – painting on the uninterrupted 15m x 80m wall which wrapped around the space.

Over nine months artists came from all over the world and painted more than 70 pieces, filling the entire space. As the wall started to come together, The District took out the fence, laid down Astro-turf and turned it into a public space with food vans on Fridays and a small bar. They even knocked a hole in the wall connecting the new public space with the shopping centre.

It was quite a transformation of space from a derelict, unused space to an amazing public art park. It was at this time that we set up The Blender Artist Market which started on Friday evenings and eventually moved to Sunday afternoons.

So, as The District grows and changes, it is inevitable that the collaboration must come to a close. The building of the new Marriott means the space is becoming more valuable.

It has been amazing watching the changes, risk and success of The District.

But now the Blender Studios must move on – back to its gritty CBD origins. I believe the collaboration Blender has had with The District has been amazingly successful. And it has been impressive that a corporate body can see the value of art, murals and the currency of culture.

The connections we have made to Docklands and The District run deep and have existed for about 10 years and this is something that we plan to continue. (Yeah, so hook us up with some projects.)

I would like to thank Docklands and The District for supporting and embracing Blender Studios. And we hope to see you at our new space, in the city.

I would also like to thank Docklands News for letting me engage, openly, my thoughts on the creative community in Docklands.

However, now that I am no longer part of Docklands physically, I will no longer be writing for the Docklands newspaper.

Thank you all for your wonderful e-mails and discussions.

You will still be able to follow me in CBD News, and you can follow me on Instagram: Doylesart or email me: [email protected]

For the last time,

Stay kool, stay in skool.

Good luck Docklands,


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