When I moved back to Melbourne, my hometown, six years ago after more than a decade in Sydney, the Victorian capital felt like a new city—one I’d have to get to know all over again. So I dived back into its high-rise heart and spent many months scouring its storied bluestone laneways for signs of life. I discovered hidden bars with unmarked doors, warehouses converted to fashionable restaurants, private clubs and intimate performances…and art everywhere. Thousands of artists colonized Melbourne in the 1990s, around the same time I left, and occupied office buildings left empty by economic recession. Their legacy is a city infused with art in every form.
Street art is the most obvious expression of this renaissance: Almost everywhere you look, it adorns walls and public spaces. But there are also galleries big and small, secret and signposted. One of my favorites is Mailbox Art Space, a row of 19 pigeonholes displaying miniature works.
Maybe the surest way to crack Melbourne’s bohemian code is to hire one of the enterprising artists who’ve set up walking tours of the painted city.
The folks behind Art Aficionado combine cultural expertise with insider access to Melbourne’s contemporary-art scene. Expect pit stops at a converted garage, a subway underpass and the labyrinth of design studios within the Chicago-style Nicholas Building. The company is run by Jane O’Neill, in-house curator of Art Series Hotels (artserieshotels.com.au), a collection of city lodgings decorated by famous Australian artists.
Pulling Back the Curtain
Art consultant Bernadette Alibrando’s Walk to Art tours give visitors an insight into the city’s creative energy and an entrée to the edgy artist-run spaces that act as idea factories in the 21st-century metropolis. These are very much behind-the-scenes tours, with ever-changing itineraries—often with the option of a wine-and-cheese debriefing at the end; very civilized.
Hit the Streets
Armed with a master’s in fine art, Adrian Doyle set up Melbourne Street Art Tours to decipher the spray-painting, stencil art and paste-ups that decorate the city. His guides uncover remarkable artworks that will persuade even the most cynical that there is merit in grade-A graffiti. If you like what you see, they can help commission your own piece of street art as a memento of art-mad Melbourne.
Art Aficionado Meeting locations vary; no phone; artaficionadotours.com
Mailbox Art Space 141-3 Flinders Lane; no phone; mailbox-141.artabase.net
Melbourne Street Art Tours 110 Franklin St.; melbournestreettours.com; 011-613-9328-5556
Walk to Art Meeting locations vary; 011-0412-005-901; walktoart.com.au
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.