The Koorie Heritage Trust (KHT) is delighted to announce that later this year in August it will take up all three floors of the Yarra Building at Fed Square in Melbourne to create a stand-alone First Nations arts and cultural centre in the building. This will beat existing plans for art and/or cultural centres in Adelaide, Maparntwe, Perth and Canberra – all Federally assisted – to become the first of its kind in an Australian capital city.

This is a significant announcement for First Peoples of South East Australia.  An expanded footprint in the heart of the Melbourne Arts Precinct recognises the importance of First Nations peoples, culture and community as central to Naarm as a modern contemporary city.

Internal building works will commence April and KHT expects minimal disruption to its programs and services during this work, so visitors can continue to meet, enjoy and learn about the First Peoples of Victoria. From 1145 sq metres, KHT will expand by 50% to 1740 square metres. This expansion will introduce new exhibition galleries, community engagement and education spaces, and an expanded retail experience.

KHT has worked extensively with First Nations architect Jefa Greenaway of Greenaway Architects, in association with Lyons and Architecture Associates, to develop a considered and beautiful plan for the building interior design reflecting country and place that responds in a culturally sensitive way to both the organisation of a museum and First Nations community values.

KHT’s First Peoples First ethos will see the project not only being led by a First Nations architecture firm, but also employ First Nations builders and designers.

“Prior to this, our part-occupation of the Yarra Building interrupted the visitor experience and at times, compromised the programs we were able to offer”, explained Tom Mosby, CEO of KHT.  “Our expansion means we are able to offer a more integrated experience for our many national and international visitors in a building that not only reflects our internal needs and ambitions but will better showcase more of our permanent collection, increase the size and scale of our annual temporary exhibition program, and offer more flexible public spaces”.

It’s from the KHT’s collection that the exhibition, ‘Second Skin: Essence of Country’ brings together 22 artists with works and cultural belongings that relate to the use of animal pelts in cultural practice. Running from March 4th to May 4th.

Melbourne Arts Precinct’s CEO Katrina Sedgwick OAM shared the organisation’s support of the growth of Koorie Heritage Trust. “The Koorie Heritage Trust moved to Fed Square over seven years ago now and plays a pivotal role in the city as one of Narrm’s leading cultural institutions. Next to the Birrarung (the Yarra), the KHT is a place of gathering, discovery and celebration of Koorie peoples, culture and creativity, and a welcoming centre for education for all Victorians”.

KHT provides opportunities for all First Nations people to connect through its wide-reaching programs – public and school walking tours, Building Aboriginal Cultural Competency workshops, Family History Services, exhibitions and public programs. KHT is also a champion of Blak Design. As part of the expansion, KHT will engage with First Nations designers, crafts people, and businesses as part of the KHT’s “First Peoples First” procurement strategy.

KHT’s expansion has been made possible with the generous support of the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation,the Aboriginal Community Infrastructure Program and MAP Co – the Melbourne Arts Precinct Corporation, established by the State government.

The Koorie Heritage Trust was established in 1985.  It is a not-for-profit arts and cultural organisation that is Indigenous owned and managed and is the only organisation of its kind located in a major Australian capital city. With the largest collection of Koorie art and artefacts in Australia, KHT promotes and supports the diversity of First Peoples of South East Australia and celebrates the strong and continuing living culture grounded in a 60,000-year-old history.

And, while we’re on the subject of the Blak/Koorie support system in Victoria, Mutti Mutti, Wamba Wamba, Yorta Yorta and Boonwurrung woman Maree Clarke has been awarded the prestigious Yalingwa Fellowship. It’s a $60,000 award for a Senior First Nations artist living and working in Victoria who has made an outstanding contribution to creative practice in the First Peoples arts community and is at a critical moment in their career.

Announced today by Minister for Creative Industries. Steve Dimopoulos, the Fellowship is part of the Yalingwa program, a collaboration between Creative Victoria, ACCA (the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art) and TarraWarra Museum of Art. It’s designed to support the development of outstanding contemporary Indigenous art and curatorial practice.
In making their decision, the Directions Circle noted Clarke’s exemplary contribution to arts, culture and Indigenous curatorial practice in the South East over a 35 year career, as well as her reclamation and innovation of cultural practice, and the role she has played as a teacher, curator and mentor.

Minister Dimopoulos commented: “Maree Clarke is one of our most respected and important artists and a well-deserved recipient of this Fellowship. I hope this opportunity enables her to reach even greater heights and introduces her work to a wider audience.”

In 2021 she was the subject of a major survey exhibition Maree Clarke – Ancestral Memories at the National Gallery of Victoria and other recent exhibitions include Tarnanthi at the Art Gallery of South Australia (2021), and the National at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2021). Clarke grew up in Northwest Victoria and is a pivotal figure in the reclamation of Koorie art practices, revitalising the creation of traditional possum skin cloaks, kangaroo teeth and river reed necklaces.

Maree is the third recipient of the Yalingwa Fellowship. The inaugural prize went to Melbourne-based artist Destiny Deacon from the Kuku, East Cape region and Torres Strait, and the second to Kokatha and Nukunu woman Yhonnie Scarce.

Maree Clarke said: “This is an incredible gift, which will allow me to focus on long term projects and conduct further research in the UK that will inform my new body of work. I am passionate about arts and culture in the Southeast, and I want to recognise how important the investment of the Yalingwa arts initiative is in nurturing, promoting and making visible arts and culture here in Victoria”.

Established by the Victorian Government in 2017, Yalingwa is a multi-year program which, in addition to the Fellowships, includes curatorial positions for First People’s curators to work with host organisations in the development of a major exhibition.

Render of new gallery spaces Koorie Heritage Trust, Fed Square by Lyons, Greenaway Architects and Architecture Associates, featuring artwork by the late Josh Muir