What is thought to be the first commercial art gallery in the heart of Canberra has been opened, the head of the City Renewal Authority praising it as another step towards the city centre having a "conspicuous soul".
The City Walk Gallery will be run by respected arts figure Nancy Sever, who was invited to use the space by King O'Malley's owner Peter Barclay.
Mr Barclay gifted a space above his pub on City Walk for the gallery. What were once offices, now transformed into the clean lines of a modern gallery.
"Peter, thanks to your passionate support of the arts, cultural activities in Canberra and your passion for the city, we now have an art gallery in the centre of the national capital," Ms Sever said at the opening of the gallery on Thursday.
It is the third gallery Ms Sever, a former long-time director of the Drill Hall Gallery at the Australian National University, has opened in the past three years. She opened the Nancy Sever Gallery in Kingston in 2014 and moved it to Gorman House in Braddon in 2017. She felt bold enough to open another gallery despite the lingering effects of COVID-19.
"We felt we need to just do more, if we can," Ms Sever said.
"The artists have kept working and we need more spaces, so artists can live from their work."
Mr Barclay said he wanted a gallery in the city centre to make culture and art more accessible to more people.
"And we just didn't have any commercial galleries at all, which is very unusual. Any other major city you go to have galleries, a network, that people can wander between. And wouldn't that be wonderful if that happened here, too?" Mr Barclay said.
The City Walk Gallery was officially opened by the City Renewal Authority chief executive Malcolm Snow, who said the authority was committed to strengthening the cultural vitality of the heart of Canberra.
"We want to make Canberra's city centre a people magnet, a prosperous and inclusive heart of the national capital - a place with a conspicuous soul," he said.
Mr Snow said the authority was working on creating a Civic arts and cultural precinct.
"The catalyst for that being the possibility, it's only a possibility still, of a brand new Canberra Theatre, but also the opportunity to re-energise and reimagine Civic Square and the buildings around it," Mr Snow said.
Mr Snow said the City Walk Gallery was a great addition to the network of cultural attractions already in Civic.
"The authority wants to see more of them and to achieve that we are focusing the government's attention very sharply on the importance of the arts and creative industries as key drivers of a city centre renaissance," he said.
Mr Snow said the authority administered the City Centre Marketing and Improvements Levy, paid by commercial businesses in the city centre. He said more than $880,000 from the levy had been directed to arts projects.
"Let's be clear, they are taxes and those taxpayers need to be certain they are getting a real return on the investment they are making," he said.
Mr Snow said, for a start, the authority had committed to ensuring some of Canberra's big festivals had more relevance to the city centre.
"It was the reason why I was disappointed that, over the other side of the lake, we have Enlighten, we have Floriade, we have other things, but really no evidence of those festivals in the city centre itself," he said, at the gallery launch.
"That's why we've made a commitment to provide clear evidence of a connection between those festivals and the city centre."
Mr Snow said he also wanted to grow the multicultural festival and continue upgrading public infrastructure in the city, some of which was approaching 90 years old.
He said current work to upgrade City Walk was due to be completed in mid-October.
"This is the beginning of an investment in the quality of our urban environment," he said.
Ms Sever, meanwhile, said the City Walk Gallery would have monthly exhibitions.
Her assistant director Carlo Savaris would help her manage the two galleries.
Artists now exhibiting at the City Walk Gallery were contemporary painter Michael Taylor, Archibald Prize winner Janet Dawson and South Australian artist Andrew Baines.
- The City Walk Gallery, above King O'Malley's, will be open Wednesday to Saturday 11am to 5pm.