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An Art Lover's Guide to Spending a Weekend in Canberra

Take your inner art critic on a tour of this contemporary art-proud cultural hub.
By Caitlin Morahan
August 06, 2019
By Caitlin Morahan
August 06, 2019


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Take your inner art critic on a tour of this contemporary art-proud cultural hub.

While the Australian capital is fondly known for its structured streets, memorials and historical museums, Canberra is also harbouring another specialty: it's home to some pretty spectacular creative works. There are, of course, the well-known spaces like the National Gallery of Australia and the National Portrait Gallery, which have been major drawcards for interstate visitors for many moons. But, in recent years, Canberra's art scene has been nurtured into a thriving space for contemporary artists, too. These lesser-known artist-run and not-for-profit art spaces are the real hidden gems, and they are crucial in underpinning both the youthful and classic sides to the art scene in Canberra. 

Whether you're an avid art lover or just enjoy casually browsing, we've collected some of the best galleries and art spaces to hit on your next visit to the capital.

Please stay up to date with the latest ACT Government health advice regarding COVID-19.

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    Located in the Kingston Power House (a historical site in itself), Canberra Glassworks is the only one of its kind in Australia. The professional artspace is dedicated entirely to contemporary glass art, whether contributed by established glass artists experimenting with new techniques or those testing out glass as a medium for the first time. For an in-depth exploration of the building, join one of the free heritage tours, which happen every Saturday at 11am (bookings required).

    Meanwhile, a visit to the HotShop will ensure you see the artists at work — you can check out the calendar of upcoming sessions here. You may be able to join a paperweight-making class, too. Or, if you really want to delve deep into your creativity, sign up for an introductory glass blowing class and create a vase or tumbler.

    Image: VisitCanberra.

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    A classic that is simply not to be missed, the National Gallery of Australia is home to some of the most breathtaking art in the country. Perched on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, we recommend dedicating an entire afternoon to strolling the gallery and taking in some of Australia’s most significant works, such as the famous Blue poles by Jackson Pollock. Right now, you can also catch a collection of European masterworks at the Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London exhibition.

    And if you’ve worked up an appetite after exploring the extensive range of artworks, you can tuck into a bite inspired by one of them. Some of the gallery’s most beloved works have been paired with their food equivalents at cafes, restaurants and bars across Canberra — the dishes that could’ve been inspired by the masterpieces themselves. So, after a day browsing through the gallery, check out the list of restaurants here and see which one echoes the sentiments of your favourite pieces.

    Image: John Gollings.

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    Less than six square metres in size, the Gallery of Small Things is aptly named for the art pieces that fit snugly inside the tiny walk-in gallery. Showcasing Canberra’s emerging and established artists in every medium from painting and photography to jewellery and ceramics, as well as digital media prints and macramé pot holders, the gallery is about ‘making’. The pieces explore texture, form and, of course, altering classic perceptions of dimensions — which is probably for the best given the gallery’s size.

    It’s a real hidden treasure and allows visitors to experience art in the suburbs and out of the city. There’s even a veggie patch next door to the artist studio to explore. It’s the perfect place to unplug for an hour or two and take the time to appreciate the small things — literally.

    Image: Mel Hill.

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    This stylish store stocks a curated range of home and lifestyle products. The husband and wife team source everything from Australian designers and creators, including jewellery, furniture, skin care, linen and ceramics. To educate buyers on the origin of the wares, Timber & Tailor includes a ‘designer portrait’ with each item.

    The store itself has a high-end feel, with its multicoloured timber and origami-like entrance, but we can assure you that no matter what your budget is, you’ll be certain to find something special to take home with you.

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    One of the biggest exhibition spaces for contemporary artists in the area, CCAS runs a student residency program that is the heart of Canberra’s contemporary art scene. There are no limitations for artworks here, with the only prerequisite being to intrigue, provoke and challenge perceptual thinking. Hosting exhibitions by local, national and international artists, CCAS offers opportunities for Australian artists to network and collaborate with artists from around the globe, while introducing visitors to new and innovative ideas.

    Exhibitions vary constantly — one moment, you could be admiring a series of digital non-figurative self-portraits, and the next, you find yourself in an experimental performance piece.

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To discover more artsy experiences to have in Canberra, head to Visit Canberra and start planning your next city break.

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