Abbotsford Convent celebrates 20 year milestone with a Community Open Day

Abbotsford Convent photo by Charlie KinrossAustralia’s largest multi-arts and cultural precinct Abbotsford Convent celebrates its milestone 20th birthday as a cultural-hub for arts, culture and learning in inner-Melbourne.

On Saturday 27 April, a free Community Open Day welcomes all Melburnians to celebrate 20 years since the Abbotsford Convent Coalition fought and won the seven year community campaign to save the precinct from commercial redevelopment.

On this date in 2004, the community was handed the keys to the Convent by the Victorian Government, and Abbotsford Convent Foundation began work to transform it into the thriving cultural destination it is today.

All areas of the Convent will be brought to life by a vibrant all-day program of arts and culinary experiences. Open to the whole community, revellers are invited to eat, drink, sing, dance and make way for the next 20 years of memories, moments and momentum.

“We are beyond delighted to present our community with an Open Day event that enables us to reflect on how far Abbotsford Convent Foundation has come in the last 20 years,” said Collette Brennan, Abbotsford Convent CEO.

“This is a free event open to everyone – our gift back to those who have supported us and walked by our side these past two decades. What an achievement! We can’t wait to see what more is to come.”

The Community Open Day promises a diverse, family-friendly bonanza for all to enjoy, with artists flitting between the Convent’s many rooms, corridors, courtyards and gardens.

There will be something for everyone: from long-term community choir Pagan Angels to Guru Dudu’s silent disco, live performances by talented Australian National Academy of Musicians, to a roving dance experience led by resident dance artist and choreographer Jo Lloyd, a tea ceremony performance by Yumi Umiumare and an immersive light and sound installation by Pierre Proske.

Kids and their grown-ups are invited to contribute to Archiloom, an interactive woven art installation by Slow Art Collective, as well as Polyglot and Wurundjeri’s story-telling paper sculptures and painting classes. The Convent-based creative tenant community will open their studio doors to visitors and join in with creative activities for all ages.

St Heliers Street Gallery presents an exhibition of works by local artists in response to the word COLLECT. A collaborative fashion performance is scheduled to take over the magnificent Magdalen Laundry, curated by Bella Brown of Object Merchant. This site-responsive presentation will feature pieces by members of the Convent fashion community, including designer Jack Hancock’s The System.

Audiences can expect a DJ set by Wax’O Paradiso as well as a live broadcast by the resident Convent radio station 3MBS amplified on the St Heliers Street side of the precinct. Guests are invited to wander the grounds, sampling locally-made food and drink or join one of many Heritage Garden and Architecture tours.

Curated by Caitlin Langford, Marking the Movement: an archival journey acknowledges the Abbotsford Convent Coalition and other key players who worked – and continue to work – tirelessly to ensure the future of the Convent.

The exhibition is an uplifting reminder of the momentum that has been gained, and a glimpse into what tomorrow holds. Artist Leisa Shelton will scribe audience stories, memories and experiences of the day, creating a democratic document of the whole event.

The Convent is one of Melbourne’s most loved venues, best known for its year-round eclectic artistic offerings, pristine gardens, and striking heritage buildings. Today, it is home to 116 arts and creative practitioners, two schools, a radio station, creative organisations, wellbeing practitioners, four hospitality venues, including the hatted restaurant Julie.

Abbotsford Convent partners with some of Australia’s most innovative arts festivals, such as Midsumma, Melbourne Fringe Festival, PHOTO International Festival of Photography and Australian Performing Arts Market (APAM). The fight to save the Convent is one of Melbourne’s finest examples of community activism.

Founded by The Sisters of the Good Shepherd in 1863, the Convent was once one of the largest Catholic complexes in Australia, and by 1901 was the largest charitable institution operating in the southern hemisphere. The sisters sold the site in 1975 and it became a campus of Latrobe University.

In 1997, a prolific property developer won the tender to purchase the land of which the Abbotsford Convent was built. To the dismay of local residents, the proposal included 289 apartments and the demolition of many heritage buildings.

Five people met in a kitchen to air their concerns, and the Abbotsford Convent Coalition was formed. In April of 2004, the Coalition and the community won the fight to save the site, which 20 years later is the heart of Melbourne’s creative community.

In 2004 the Abbotsford Convent Coalition fought to save the Convent and won. This mighty movement was marked by the Coalition being handed the keys to the Convent, providing the community with a space to celebrate arts, culture and learning. 20 years later, Abbotsford Convent remains a prominent pillar of curiosity and collaboration, meeting and meaning.

The precinct was inscribed on the National Heritage List in August 2017, recognised for demonstrating Australia’s social and welfare history through the lens of a religious and charitable institution.

The Abbotsford Convent Foundation (ACF) is constantly restoring, reviving and enlivening the precinct for the community. Most recently, the Foundation has undertaken two award-winning restorations.

The Sacred Heart building restoration was completed in 2018 by a team dedicated to the preservation of the building including Kerstin Thompson Architects (KTA), FDC Construction and Fitout with input from Heritage Victoria.

In 2019, nine months of meticulous conservation and restoration works saw the North Magdalen Laundry transformed from a derelict space to a new venue ready for creative activation and ongoing heritage interpretation.

Generously supported by the Victorian Government, led by Williams Boag Architects, with building works by FDC Construction and Fitout, and overseen by Heritage Victoria, the project was awarded the 2020 AIA Victorian Architecture Award for Heritage Architecture – Creative Adaptation.

Abbotsford Convent Celebrates 20 Years – Community Open Day
Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Heliers Street, Abbotsford
Date: Saturday 27 April 2024
Free entry

For more information and full program, visit: for details.

Image: Abbotsford Convent – photo by Charlie Kinross