In April, the Sidney Myer Foundation announced Metro Arts the Queensland winner of its 2020 Performing Arts Award.

I learned of the Award from a press release circulated by Terri Butler MP.

In her statement, Ms Butler said, “I am so pleased to be able to congratulate Metro Arts on this wonderful achievement, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic which had a tremendous effect on the sector.”

“The team at Metro Arts deserve recognition for continuing to tell and develop local and contemporary stories.

I had been wanting to follow up with Metro Arts since our story on their launch in West End last September, so I took the opportunity to approach CEO and Creative Director, Jo Thomas for an interview.

The Award

Ms Thomas said Metro Arts was nominated for the award by other people and when Andrew Myer phoned to tell them they were winners, they were very surprised.

“The Sydney Myer Performing Arts Awards are quite prestigious, and they’re a national award. So, it’s wonderful as a Queensland based organisation to be recognised by the Foundation,” Ms Thomas said.

“After 41 years of operation, it’s very exciting for us to win one of these awards. They recognise excellence in performing arts, and they provide us with financial grants.”

The team was thrilled not only for the recognition of the excellent work Metro Arts has been doing, but also because it recognises the company has the capacity to continue that work and to continue to contribute to the sector.

“So, we took that to be a strong endorsement of the work we’ve been doing in the last few years: moving from Edward Street, setting up in a new precinct, and setting up the Metro Arts future fund.”

Because of COVID, the Awards could not be presented in the usual face-to-face ceremony in Melbourne, so the Sidney Myer Foundation asked the winners to create a video that could be put up on the website.

Ms Thomas said is not quite the same as the red carpet, but they now have a promotional video that celebrates the work of Metro Arts. add link at end

Jo Thomas

The move to West End

In September 2020, after 40 years, Metro Arts moved from Edwards Street to purpose-built facilities in the West Village precinct on Boundary Street, West End.

“We have been working really hard to improve our offering to the sector, and to offer greater opportunities to both the audience and the artists. So, I think our visibility has increased.”

“Being able to celebrate 41 years is quite a milestone for any arts organisation in Australia. So, we’ve passed that difficult birthday, and we’re moving forward.”

One of the key drivers behind moving to West End is the proximity of West End to Brisbane’s arts community, with spaces such as QPAC, Blaklash Creative, Milani Gallery, Queensland Theatre and Queensland Ballet.

“It’s a beautiful walking precinct of art and creativity.”

“We did feel very isolated in the city. The city has moved on and changed in the past 40 years and audiences weren’t coming into the city anymore.”

Now Metro Arts is attracting new audiences while retaining their old following.

“The board have been working closely with me on making sure we’re here for at least another 41 years. We’ve seen some people come to the new precinct here in West Village and say, “Oh, we don’t know about you”. So, we are meeting new people. But our older audience and artists have also followed us and are enjoying the new precinct.”

Ms Thomas said they thought it was important that an organisation like Metro Arts, with a strong community voice, is based in the West Village precinct.

“We feel we speak to a multitude of people; we work across generations, across cultures, and across communities. So, when we came in here, we commissioned local artists such as Dale Harding to create work here on the site. We spoke to elders, we had a smoking ceremony, we wanted to honour the Indigenous history here. We’ve also been chatting to the West End Traders Association, and different groups around West End. I want to welcome everyone. So, I’m working hard to present work that might appeal to a broad range of people.”

Community Space

Metro Arts supports local arts-based activities: they have community dance classes in their rehearsal rooms, and a number of bookings throughout the year for different community groups wanting to use the theatre space.

“We have a free dance class coming up, out on the lawn, as part of our Mad Dance Festival.”

Artists spaces

Ms Thomas said that affordable studio space for artists is an ongoing problem. Metro Arts has two other sites, one in Tenerife and one in Norman Park, both with spaces for artists.

“We have artists and residents there. People can hire the spaces cheaply as well, to run workshops or to do pop up galleries.”


Ms Thomas said the Metro Arts has been called the luckiest Arts organisation in the country, because they had already planned to be closed between March and August last year.

“We had set up some interim offices, but instead we all worked from home. Our construction over here [in West End] didn’t stop. And we were able to open to plan. So yes, I was feeling very blessed.”

The organisation has supported artists affected by the shutdown.

“They were sort of caught in that gig economy loophole with Federal Government support.”

“The Metro Arts Board was very supportive last year when I went to them and said, “Well, I’d like to commission from additional artists. We want to keep them working.”

“So, we commissioned a number of artists to make new work while they were in lockdown, just to try and keep everyone going. And we’ve had this beautiful array of work that we started presenting from September last year. We’ve got so much work we’re getting out there this year, as well. It’s been incredibly challenging that so many artists lost their income overnight. So, we’ve just done what we could to support them.”

Prize Money

Metro Arts plans to put their $25,000 prize for the Performing Arts Award towards commissioning more new work from local artists and they hope to see that come to fruition next year, Ms Thomas said.

Upcoming events at Metro Arts

Metro Arts is excited about two upcoming events: MAD and BAD.

“We’ve got the Mad Dance Festival, which is street dance: a community that doesn’t often get invited into our arts organisations and precincts. So, we’re throwing open the doors to street dance.”

“And then there’s the Brisbane Art by Design (BAD) month as well. So, we’re looking forward to BAD and MAD.

We are fortunate to have such a wonderful space celebrating our contemporary arts, music and theatre, in the heart of West End – get along if you haven’t already.

Video – Metro Arts (QLD) – 2020 Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards – click link below

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