News / Arts

Arts space breathes new life into Sydney Road

Gallery and events venue aims to break down barriers and bring people together

“We’re trying to create a safe space because often people feel excluded from the art world and this is a way of saying everyone is welcome here,” says correspondences owner Emma Thomson

Mark Phillips
Tuesday, August 9, 2022

THE southern end of Sydney Road has taken a battering from the pandemic over the past two years but one bright spot has emerged with the opening of a new arts space. 

correspondences (the lower case c is deliberate), a small exhibition and events space and café, stands out among the large number of empty, neglected shops in the block between Brunswick Road and Barkly Street. 

Emma Thomson, a visual arts curator and producer, took over the building at 39 Sydney Road at the start of winter, and is developing a new home for artists of all disciplines including visual arts, writing and music. 

She has stripped out what was formerly a muscle supplements shop and transformed it into a light and airy space with a Japanese minimalist aesthetic. 

A rotating series of artists in residence will occupy a small studio space at the back of the building, with their work on show in the gallery.  

At the front, half a dozen seats looking through the large windows onto Sydney Road are available all day for customers to enjoy a languid coffee or tea from local producers Wide Open Road and Impala and Peacock. It becomes a sake bar on Thursday and Friday nights. 

The venue also sells a a small selection of contemporary Australian fiction and non-fiction and handwoven string bags (bilum in Pidgin) from Papua New Guinea, and a small selection of jewellery made using the same techniques and materials.  There is even a borrowing library. 

correspondences is open for regular hours from Tuesday to Saturday, and at other times for special events, talks and workshops. 

As Ms Thomson describes it, correspondences has already existed for about five years as a series of art projects that would pop up in different, non-traditional arts venues but she had longed to create a permanent place where people could connect with each other at their own pace.

She has modest ambitions for correspondences but hopes it will eventually become a meeting place for the informal exchange of ideas and new connections.  

“correspondences is this idea of connections across cultures,” Ms Thomson said. 

“I think now more than ever in this COVID, era, we’re all craving those social connections, basic human stuff, a sense of togetherness, having a space where you can just come and have a chat, or just sit and read your book … And I think that’s probably because we’ve been working from home, if we’ve been lucky enough to do that, some of us find ourselves quite isolated.” 

The gallery will feature works by artists in residence. Photo: Amanda Chamsay

Apart from providing an income stream, the hospitality aspect of correspondences is an attempt to overcome the unease some people feel about entering a gallery or other artistic space. 

“We’re trying to create a safe space because often people feel excluded from the art world and this is a way of saying everyone is welcome here,” Ms Thomson said.

“I love realising projects in non-traditional gallery spaces,” she added. “I feel that that makes them feel more accessible to people who don’t perhaps come from the so-called art world. And I think that is rather nice.” 

correspondences can hold up to 60 people for its curated one-off events, which will often focus on the practice of the artist in residence. 

The current resident is Coburg based audio-visual Edwina Stevens who has produced an immersive exhibition of photographs, video and sounds captured along the Moonee Ponds Creek trail and under CityLink during last year’s lockdown. 

Next month, photographer Ali McCann will take over as resident until November, and in March next year, Japan-born ceramicist Yoko Ozawa will occupy the space. 

Patrons at a recent event at correspondences. Photo: Amanda Chamsay

One of the first events held in the space featured the Ukrainian-Australian writer Maria Tumarkin reading from her award-winning collection of essays, Axiomatic, and discussing her work. The event served as a fundraiser for Tumarkin’s Austrian-based sister, Inna, who has provided a temporary home to dozens of Ukrainian women and children who have fled the war. To complete the family connection, Maria’s daughter, Billie, performed two Ukrainian folk songs. 

Tumarkin will return to correspondences next month to run an intensive creative writing master class. 

When it came to choosing a location for correspondences, Ms Thomson, who has lived locally for most of her time in Melbourne, did not have to look far. 

“I’ve always had a really special feeling for Brunswick, this particular part of Brunswick,” she said. 

“Brunswick is what it is, it changes, but it’s got a beautiful, authentic vibe to it, I think, so it was always the natural place for me.”

She said other shop owners in the block had been enthusiastic about welcoming something new to the area and there is hope that the presence of correspondences will encourage other cultural enterprises to set up nearby.