The Gunnery is a heritage-listed building located on Gadigal land, in Woolloomooloo, next to Sydney Harbour. This site has been occupied by artists for over 60 years of its rich history. Artspace’s redevelopment in 2023 has secured the building as a contemporary art space for at least another 35 years.
The building was constructed in the early twentieth century by the Fairfax family. Its original purpose was bulk storage of ink and paper used to print the Sydney Morning Herald. In the 1940s, the site was requisitioned for use by the Federal Government for defence purposes during the Second World War. Between 1945 and 1948 it was used as a military instruction centre for the use of guns (hence its acquired name ‘The Gunnery’) and later as a naval film laboratory and cinema.
In 1975, the building was provisionally zoned for use as a creative public space as part of a government plan to redevelop the Woolloomooloo Bay area. When this proposal languished, the building was left derelict, becoming an artists’ squat. The Gunnery housed one of the most prolific underground artist-run collectives in Australian art history, hosting performances, exhibitions, a recording studio, artist studios, a cinema, and squatter dwellings with over 40 artists living and working in the building. In 1989, the NSW Government proposed to sell The Gunnery for redevelopment. This was a critical juncture in the building’s history and the community campaign that followed saved the Woolloomooloo neighbourhood from high-rise apartments and office buildings. The artists fought all the way to the NSW Land and Environment Court, keeping The Gunnery in the public eye and preventing its demolition. In 1991, the NSW Government proposed that the building become a centre for visual arts, and in 1992 it underwent a major refurbishment supported by philanthropist Franco Belgiorno-Nettis.
Between 1992 and 2022, Artspace was one of several arts-focused organisations housed in The Gunnery, including the Biennale of Sydney, the National Association for the Visual Arts, Arts Law, and Museums & Galleries of NSW.
In 2023, after 40 dynamic years of artistic activity, Artspace unveiled a completely revitalised contemporary art space supported by the NSW Government. All three floors of The Gunnery were restored to achieve expanded galleries, additional rent-free studios, and universal access throughout the building. A new reorientated entrance on Forbes Street offers greater connection with the local neighbourhood, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and The Domain parklands. This once-in-a-lifetime transformation project, underpinned by an exclusive 35-year sublease on the entire building, ensures a future for the next generation of custodians. Through Artspace, The Gunnery will continue to be a welcoming and inclusive place for audiences and the gathering of communities, anchored in Woolloomooloo.