A Shared History: 50 years of Custodianship, Connection and Curation
May 17, 2024

A Shared History: 50 years of Custodianship, Connection and Curation


Celebrating the long-standing relationship between Footscray Community Arts and Victoria University.

Within the cultural landscape of Victoria, Footscray Community Arts stands as a testament to the vision and determination of a group of local art enthusiasts. Born out of a shared passion for creativity and community, the institution has evolved from humble beginnings into a cornerstone of cultural identity in Melbourne’s West.

The Founding of Footscray Community Arts

The catalyst for this ambitious endeavour was the conversion of a tin shed on the campus of Victoria University (formerly known as Footscray Institute of Technology) in 1974. The Shed was offered to Footscray Community Arts’ founding group in-kind for four years by the then, Director of Footscray Institute of Technology, Doug Mills.

The founding of Footscray Community Arts Centre in this initial location was led by a passionate group of community members, artists and unionists, including two members called George Seelaf and Peter Green, who embarked on a mission to establish an arts centre that would serve the multicultural communities of the West.

Both Peter Green and George Seelaf were strongly connected to Victoria University’s predecessor institutions, Footscray Institute of Technology and Footscray Technical College. Peter taught drama and later became senior lecturer and co-ordinator of Performance Studies. While George studied at Footscray Technical College and was later awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree in 1984.

Victoria University Tin Shed ’87A, original Footscray Community Arts site.

Initially serving as a temporary classroom on the FIT campus, the 2,700 square foot shed at Footscray Park, affectionately referred to as 87A, transformed under the stewardship of Seelaf, Green, and their passionate cohort of artists and unionists, becoming the beginning of a vibrant hub of creativity and expression for migrant communities in the west.

In collaboration with dedicated locals, they brought their respective expertise and networks to the table, garnering support and laying the groundwork for the centre’s establishment at the 87a shed. The late Eric Westbrook’s involvement was particularly instrumental, securing crucial funding from the Arts Ministry to kickstart the initiative, and the beginnings of a community arts hub.

Image courtesy of Footscray Community Arts archive, inside Henderson House ‘Basement Theatre’ in the 80’s

Moving to Henderson House

A pivotal moment occurred in 1977 when George Seelaf spearheaded a campaign to save the Henderson House from demolition, which still stands at the current location and houses Gabriel and Entrance gallery spaces, as well as the Artists in Residence program. Through tireless advocacy and lobbying efforts, Seelaf and fellow activists successfully preserved the site, securing the first permanent home of the Footscray Community Arts where it remains today, fifty years later.

Photo caption: Extract taken from page 4 of a publication called Henderson Housesubmitted to the Premier of Victoria by Footscray Community Arts in July 1977 as part of a grant application for the Henderson House building on Moreland Street. Provided by Victoria University Library.

“We are immensely proud to have such a long-standing connection with FCA, an iconic and influential organisation that continues to positively impact countless members of our community, along with providing VU students with professional opportunities and contributing positively to the student experience through their creative arts and dance programmes. FCA’s dedication to fostering creativity in Melbourne’s west is both admirable and inspiring, and we look forward to future collaborations.”

 – Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Shoemaker, Victoria University

“Footscray Community Arts’ enduring partnership with Victoria University is such an important part of our evolution. Over 50 years, our shared values have fuelled community-driven creativity and resilience. I’m privileged to see our impact on Melbourne’s cultural landscape, forging pathways and opportunities for our local community.”

– Julia White, Chair, Footscray Community Arts.

Image courtesy of Footscray Community Arts archive, outside Henderson House in the 80’s.

Launch of the New Commissions Fund

In it’s fiftieth year, the centre continues to stand as a beacon of artistic vibrancy and cultural development, championing the voices and talents of the communities we platform, including First Nations, people of colour and people from diaspora communities, LGBTIQA+ communities, and d/Deaf and d/Disabled artists.

To commemorate this milestone, we are proud to announce the launch of the New Commissions Fund for artists. This fund represents a significant step in the centre’s shared history of supporting creativity and community engagement in Footscray.

The New Commissions Fund aims to nurture and support artists whose work resonates with the spirit of Footscray Community Arts, ensuring access to financial support and industry opportunities.

We’re inviting you to join us on the next chapter of our journey and play a vital role in the evolution of Footscray Community Arts, preserving a legacy of advocacy and community empowerment.

Contribute to the New Commissions Fund and pave the way for future generations of creatives by donating today! 

We can provide critical financial support by investing in artists as they find new ways of working and developing ambitious projects.  

Footscray Community Arts QueerPHOTO view. Video by Simon Aubor.