The Abbotsford Convent will be swinging its gates wide open once again for their annual open day. You'll have a chance to snoop around the grounds and gardens and ask questions of all the artists and wellness practitioners who rent the old nuns’ quarters and outbuildings. (Pictured are ceramicists from Cone 11 and painter Rick Matear, but there are 400 tenants in all.)
The historical-site-turned-creative-hub is now thought to be the biggest multi-arts precinct in Australia, with 17,000 visitors a week. CEO Maggie Maguire – who trained as a theatre director and previously produced events like Moomba – runs a team of 12 full-time and eight part-time staff. Her office is cluttered with quirky religious paraphernalia that staff and tenants have found around the globe, but Abbotsford Convent is now a secular site – save for the chapel, which remains in the care of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.
After the Sisters officially left in 1975, Abbotsford Convent changed hands a few times before lying dormant for eight years. A community campaign saved it from being turned into apartments and the new team, headed by Maguire who came on board a year later, received a one-off four-million dollar grant from the government to get it up and running. The site is now open every day of the year, with tours on Sunday, but on open day you can take the tour for free. (The Collingwood Farm just outside the grounds is a separate entity, but is thought to receive a thousand times more visitors now that the convent is in full swing.)
Also on the open day program are writing workshops, readings and activities for kids. You can watch the egg-and-spoon race – and other classic fete games – courtesy of the Steiner School, grab a drink at the Shadow Electric Bar, which will also host sets from the Spoils and Ben Salter, and test your skills in a game of ping-pong in the gardens, which will be set up with banana lounges. Snack fiends and foodie friends can get their hands on treats from the Bursaria Pop Up Cafe, Cam's Café, Kappaya, Lentil as Anything, Taco Truck and Mr Burger. The Convent Pop-up Shop will be launching too, so get ready to stock up on lots of quirky, creative gifts.
Cycling to the open day is strongly encouraged – the folk at Squeaky Wheel will even have their bike valets waiting for you, dressed in red and white uniforms and ready to park your precious fixie. Otherwise, a shuttle bus is available to take you from Victoria Park Station – which is a ten-minute walk away.