Q&A :: Firstdraft turns 25

September 12th 2011


Surry Hills’ Firstdraft has been a major player in the Sydney arts for two and a half decades. Kate Britton caught up with co-director Grace Archibald to find out how they’re celebrating.


Flog: It’s Firstdraft's 25th birthday! That’s surely got to make it one of the elder statesmen of Sydney ARIs. Was it one of the pioneer's of this kind of space in Sydney? How did it spring into being? Do you know what the early days were like?

Archibald: Yes it is! And we also like to claim that we are the longest running ARI in Australia. Apparently there is one that has been running one year longer than Firstdraft but it’s in the NT. It certainly was and continues to be a pioneer for providing affordable space to artists. It sprung into being with some seed funding from the Australia Council. It was headed up by Paul Saint, Narelle Jubelin, Tess Horwitz and Roger Crawford. I don’t know what the early days were like but it was the 80’s so I like to imagine they were pretty heady days.


ARIs seem to be an increasingly important part of Sydney’s artistic community. How is firstdraft positioned in all of this? Would you say it's provided a kind of model or benchmark for this kind of initiative?

ARI’s are integral to the cultural fabric of Sydney. Firstdraft provides a platform for artists to propel themselves from. A large proportion of artists that exhibit with us have since gone on to achieve great success. Firstdraft also just co hosted the National ARI symposium which was important for developing discussion and networks not just in Sydney but nationally and internationally. Opportunities for artists, performers, musicians and writers to exhibit and for audiences to engage in these activities are pretty limited in this town so it’s great to be part of something that can offer that. There is a real sense of community that comes out of ARI’s not just between the people who run it but also and most importantly for the audiences who support them. There is something really unique and special about ARI’s that I think comes from the DIY mentality, its unfettered and exciting. The great thing about ARI’s is that they all different so even though we have been around a long time and probably have set the benchmark there is no one model and ARI’s are always evolving.

When I turned 25, I decided it was time to get my first "real" job. Any new grand plans on the horizon for firstdraft? Will the flush of adulthood change the game?

Well firstdraft has done a lot of growing up over the past year and a bit with our gallery renovation and setting up a dedicated studio space at the Depot in Woolloomooloo. We have also established a limited edition print series, which we hope will be a sustainable form of income to contribute to the gallery’s budget so that we don’t have be 100% reliant on funding bodies. Agatha Gothe-Snape has produced the current print and Tom Polo is working on the next print. I think there are only bigger and better days ahead of Firstdraft.


You’ve been with the gallery for a while now yes? Do you have any highlights – exhibitions, artists, or events that really stand out for you?

I am just nearing the end of my two year directorship. It’s been exhilarating to have had the privilege to be involved. Every exhibition we have is quite dynamic so it is difficult to pin point one. I’ve met a lot of interesting pe


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