Nurturing creative talent in the heart of the city

Meet the talented artists thriving in our creative live/work spaces in Darlinghurst.

Every 18 months, we offer studios and living spaces to creatives and artists.

Running since 2013, our Creative live/work program has been home to talents like award-winning artist Ramesh Mario Nithyendran and critically acclaimed composer/lyricist, actor and singer Vidya Makan.

Our aim is to foster opportunities for cultural, creative and commercial exchange that may otherwise not be possible in the inner city. It’s a key part of our Creative City cultural policy addressing artists’ challenges in finding affordable inner-city housing and creative facilities.

Here, the 6 current tenants of our Darlinghurst studios share how the creative/live work program has helped them create focus and find new inspiration in their work.

Margaret (Maggie) Tra – musician, producer, DJ

Maggie Tra working on her music Photo: Rob Hookey / City of Sydney

Maggie is an Australian born Khmer/Vietnamese DJ/music producer. Using her work and love of music as a platform, she aims to create more diversity in the music industry.

Maggie is the founder of the label SYS Sister Sounds and runs the Vietnamese Hà Nội community radio station remotely. As part of her collective Pho the Girls, she runs workshops teaching women and non-binary people how to DJ.

“Being able to get this, make music and have south-east Asian Australian representation has really helped the local community believe that someone like me or someone like them is able to do these things.”

This program has allowed Maggie to live closer to work.

"I get to play at Club77 and around the city which I'm so grateful for. Being able to immerse myself in the city with live music around me is so fulfilling."

While involved in this program, Maggie's been featured in Rolling Stone Australia, played at Parramatta Lanes Festival and released her second album Very Vui.

She's been able to surround herself in the local scene, collaborating, performing and attending gigs and gatherings. This has not always been an option for Maggie, who previously lived in western Sydney. Before her move, she sometimes felt unsafe travelling home alone from the city centre late at night.

Maggie Tra on Spotify

Amy Sole – theatre maker and advocate

Amy Sole and their pooch in front of the Gadigal Mural in Darlinghurst. The mural is the work of 3 Aboriginal artists: Dennis Golding, Lucy Simpson and Jason Wing. Their work references both the topographical patterning and material culture of Gadigal country. Photo: Rob Hookey / City of Sydney

Amy Sole is a proud Wiradjuri/Worimi person. As a storyteller, Amy works across multiple disciplines within the performing arts as a playwright, director, actor, dramaturg, producer and advocate.

“For me it's about supporting people's truth and stories that they have to tell. It's about how we shift things with story. How we change things with story, and how we share and connect with story. I do that across multiple different avenues.”

Before the creative live/work spaces program Amy was writing for theatre stages and completing their Masters of Directing at NIDA. They lived in western Sydney with a daily 2 to 4 hour commute. Amy's unique perspective as a queer, Aboriginal artist with disability is highly sought after, but the travel time made shorter meetings and engagements in the city tricky. It left little room for pause.

This program has allowed Amy "the time, freedom and the space to actually nurture myself as an artist. I started painting a lot more and writing a lot of my own work again. I just felt very held to be here with my own practice and to sit and write for a bit as well."

They’ve been continuing their work as a director and dramaturg on First Nations productions, including working on multiple productions with Sydney Festival.

Karen Coull – multimedia artist

Karen Coull in front of one of her pieces. Photo: Dean Quilin Li / City of Sydney

Karen Coull has been a practicing artist for 30 years. At times, balancing her practice, work and life has been precarious. She employs traditional domestic processes such as needlework alongside more traditional ‘high art’ based processes – predominately collage and small sculpture. Her intricate works reimagine domestic and found objects, with a focus on mapping the invisibility of aging women parallel to documenting her personal journey of aging.

“…I fossick through the notions that devalue the personal and hide ageing women in the domestic sphere. I emphasise the personal story in my practice. The small stories that give things meaning and enable understanding…”

Before the creative live/work spaces program Karen had been selected as a finalist in a number of significant art prizes, including recent acknowledgments in The Gosford Art Prize 2022, people’s choices and winning the Waverley Art Prize drawing prize in 2022.

Being a tenant in our creative/live work spaces program has provided the perfect opportunity to facilitate a strong commitment and focus to producing art within a centrally located, affordable, supportive, nurturing environment.

Karen has been selected as a finalist this year in the Sunshine Coast Art Prize, Fisher's Ghost Art Award and the pre-eminent, Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize. She is currently working and preparing for a solo show in late 2024.

Karen Coull’s Instagram

Billy Bain – multimedia artist

Billy Bain with some of his works Photo: Rob Hookey / City of Sydney

Billy is a contemporary artist of Darug descent. His arts practice spans ceramic sculpture, oil painting, etchings and installations. He explores what it means to be a young Indigenous person in Australia today.

“As a young artist, so much of it is networking. Meeting people and being around it, experiencing how things work.”

Before the creative live/work spaces program, Billy had moved back home to the northern beaches off the back of uncertainty during Covid.

"It was sort of nice to be up in Avalon so I could go surfing, have more room. It's nice being around other artists again."

This program has helped bring Billy "closer to a lot of galleries and a hub of the art world." The proximity has made it easier to meet peers and expand his industry networks. Billy says, "It's opened my world up quite a lot."

His work has been shown at Sydney Art Fair, Spring 1883 and Sydney Contemporary with gallery Blackartprojects and in the Ngununggula Southern Highlands Regional Gallery as part of the New Dog Old tricks exhibition. Billy was voted 2023 FBi Sydney Music, Arts & Culture (SMAC) Awards artist of the year and is currently working on a new series for Melbourne art fair.

Billy's documentary Changing Tides premiered on ABC in July. It's about an east coast surf road trip "sharing Indigenous voices quite often not heard in mainstream Australia."

Billy Bain’s website

Shivanjani Lal – artist

Shivanjani Lal enjoys 'being able to host other artists and friends' in her space Photo: Rob Hookey / City of Sydney

Shivanjani is a Fijian-Australian artist who uses storytelling, objects and video to account for lost histories and explore narratives of indenture and migratory histories. Her work has been exhibited across Australia, New Zealand, India, Barbados, France, Indonesia, the UK and Italy.

“I can walk down the road and go to an art opening or the Art Gallery of NSW and not have to plan it but rather just be like, I'm gonna see where the day takes me.”

This grant has given Shivanjani easier access to the Sydney arts scene, along with the organisations and industry peers. The creative tenancy will enable her to move into the next phase of her career, to make more and more ambitious work.

Shivanjani’s been focussing on her arts practice with a scholarship from the Queensland Art Gallery and a show with Linden New Art next year.

"These big opportunities are kind of calling me to take hold of them."

"Everything kind of lined up. It was really bonkers. I thought I would just get one of the things that I applied for that would be like great. Then I kind of got all of them and it all happened while I was in India!"

Shivanjani’s website

Blake Rhodes – Musician, producer and composer

Blakes Rhodes in his element amongst his instruments Photo: Rob Hookey / City of Sydney

Professionally known as Mr Rhodes, Blake is a Bundjalung and Yaegl songwriter, producer, performer and composer working primarily in hip hop and electronic music.

“As full-time artists, we don't have day jobs, like 9 to 5s. We have 5 to 5s!”

Before the creative live/work spaces program, Blake was working on an EP, touring and running workshops all over the state for youth on topics from creative development to production. Often travelling for work and away for months at a time, he previously lived in a studio apartment in Enmore. Blake grew up in Lismore.

"Honestly, if I didn't get this place I probably would have moved back to Lismore. Because it's kind of prohibitively expensive to live in Sydney as a full-time artist."

This program has been "really productive" with more of a separation between his social and work lives. Most of his gigs and recording sessions are based in the inner west or Alexandria.

"My friends who come over are like, ‘Damn! You living good.’ I told them about these residencies and opportunities and they were like, 'That sounds crazy! Is that even real?’  I was like, 'It's real!’ and I sent a whole bunch of people links."

Mr Rhodes Music Instagram
Mr Rhodes on Spotify

Feeling inspired?

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Find out more about City of Sydney’s creative live/work program.

Explore our current creative grants on offer here.

See all our current grant opportunities.

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