Duration: More than 3 hours
Price Guide: $0
Don’t try doing this tour on a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. At least one of the galleries will be shut. And kicking off at 9am is not advised either, gallery owners like to sleep in.
Start at Flinders Street Station.
If you’ve caught a train to the station and/or have a valid ticket for the day then start inside the station itself and go to any platform from 1 through to 10 and then go down one of the two staircases in the middle. There will be a sign hanging above directing you to the Degraves subway. Go down the stairs and turn towards the station exit barriers at the northern end of the subway.
if you’ve not got a valid ticket there’s no need to buy one, from the main entrance, cross the road toward Young Jackson’s pub and turn left, heading west along Flinders St until you reach a staircase in the footpath, just past the entrance to the Port Philip Arcade. There’s a sign above it directing you to the Degraves Subway. Go down the stairs.
An artist-run initiative, it is funded by the City of Melbourne and is home to local artists from many different backgrounds. Painting, sculpture, multimedia, even performance art has all appeared in these glass boxes. And, if you happen to strike the Subway during one of the regular openings for a new exhibition, you might just score yourself a free glass of red wine.
Once you’re done with all that Degraves Subway has to offer, head north towards the staircase up to Degraves Street. Grab a snack at the awesome waffle place at the top of the stairs if you’re feeling peckish, but otherwise push on until you reach Flinders Lane, the first intersection with Degraves St. Once there, turn right and head east towards Swanston Street. Cross over Swanston Street and continue east up Flinders Lane until you reach number 185, Anna Schwartz Gallery.
Now, hopefully you’re dressed in top-to-toe black and looking über chic, because Anna Schwartz Gallery is pretty damn arty. (The Gallery is open 12-6pm Tuesday to Friday and 1-5pm on Saturday).
The pieces exhibited here are all for sale (a little tip, if you need to ask how much, you perhaps shouldn’t be asking), so don’t touch! But while it can all be a little too serious at times, it is a free way to see some of the most cutting-edge contemporary works in Australia and, perhaps, in the world.
Back down the stairs on to street level, you’ve only got a little way to walk. Continue east along Flinders Lane until you reach 141 Flinders Lane, just over Russell Street. Head in to the building and make your way upstairs to level 2, to The Narrows.
This teeny little space is open Wednesday to Friday, 12-5pm and Saturdays, 12-6pm, so make sure you time your tour to fit in with those hours.
The Narrows is a contemporary art space hosting local, national and international artists. The program consists of internally curated and artist-generated projects and periodically explores graphic design in the context of artistic interpretation and professional promotion.
Head back downstairs and out on to Flinders Lane. Turn left and walk to the first corner, the intersection with Russell Street. There, turn right and walk north up Russell Street until you reach the corner of Little Collins Street. There, turn left and head down Little Collins for almost two blocks. Once you’ve crossed Swanston Street keep going until you’re almost at Elizabeth Street, on your right will be the entrance to the Royal Arcade (coffee shop on one side, jewellery store on the other).
Go in to the Arcade and just past the entrance on your left is a doorway with signage for Marais and Don’t Come. This is the next stop on your tour.
Up the stairs, past Marais and on to the second level you’ll find a huge airy space – this is the Don’t Come Gallery. It’s also a store, which stocks hipster labels like Schwipe, but we’re here for the art.
Like all the galleries on this tour, the exhibitions here change regularly, but the overarching theme is contemporary and edgy. To suit the enormous, light-filled room, the pieces in here are often huge too.
On to the last stop! Go downstairs and out of the Royal Arcade on to Little Collins Street. Turn right and walk to Elizabeth Street. Then, take another right and walk to the corner of Bourke Street. Now, you have to go about three blocks west. If you like, you can walk, but I suggest you hop on either an 86 or 96 tram at the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke Streets and take that instead. If you don’t already have a public transport ticket for the day, you can just buy a CitySaver ticket on the tram for the three stops. Make sure you have change for the machine though.
Once you’ve reached the corner of Bourke Street and King Street, whether by tram or on foot, turn right and go to number 171 and, of course, head up the stairs.
Kings Artist Run Initiative is open from 3-6pm Wednesday to Friday and 12-6pm on Saturdays. It is another of Melbourne’s artist-run initiatives. Two of its founders were video artists and Kings has been associated with that form from its beginnings in 2001, but the gallery has been home to all sorts of different artistic forms.
It’s just two rooms, but there’s plenty here to stimulate the mind.