A peek inside Schoolhouse Studios in Abbotsford – the very photogenic workspace of set dresser / jewellery designer Marni Kornhauser (my dear pal!). These kids were pretty chuffed to rip the carpet up and discover that herringbone parquetry, let me tell you!

Sweet details in Marni Kornhauser‘s studio

Necklaces by Marni Kornhauser

OK dudes I am just warning you this is one seriously photo heavy post. A photo essay, even. But I was SO inspired by my visit to Schoolhouse Studios in Abbotsford recently I went a little crazy with the camera. It was like some kind of creative UTOPIAN PARADISE. I am not joking.

I say Utopian, because there is something kind of weirdly post-apocalyptic about Schoolhouse Studios. I know that seems a tad dramatic but it really did make me feel like I had stepped into a movie about life after capitalism. Let me explain…

Schoolhouse Studios is an incredible collaborative studio space which occupies the old Sophia Mundi Steiner School and Monastery in Abbotsford. The old classrooms (blackboards intact), locker rooms, offices and assembly halls have been transformed into amazing generous studio spaces, with soaring ceilings and windows, inhabited by over 75 Melbourne artists, designers, architects and film makers. The grounds have been converted into a productive vegie garden (with chickens!), and perfect meeting spot for the creatives who work here to share a Friday night drink. The communal kitchen gives everyone somewhere to cook and share a meal. The gallery space downstairs showcases the work of various emerging artists. The studios play host to an endless calendar of events, exhibitions, workshops – and yoga classes! On the day I visited, someone was shooting a music video in the garden, and a band was setting up for a gig in the assembly hall that evening.

It’s this inspiring injection of immense new creative energy, in a space originally designed for a completely different purpose, that really makes you feel like you’ve crossed over into some kind of idealist alternate reality :) There is something truly magical about this space.

Of course it takes incredible drive, passion and serious organisation skills to pull something like this together, and that’s where Elizabeth Barnett and Alice Glenn come in. These two young local creatives joined forces whilst on the hunt for studio space early last year… and the rest is history! After some negotiation (and clean-up and carpet removal!), Alice and Elizabeth founded the Schoolhouse Studios in March last year. They started with 16 tenants and now have a community of over 75 creative people working here (FYI there is no vacancy at present I’m afraid!).

Seriously. How awesome.

I asked Elizabeth a few questions about this amazing creative community -

How did the Schoolhouse Studios come about? What were your goals with the project and how on earth did you make it happen!?

Alice and I were looking for studios separately and discovered that we were both obsessively scouring realcommercial.com and the streets of the inner north. We joined forces and after many a property inspection we were sitting at Three Bags Full (tearing our hair out) and Alice remembered that the Steiner school had vacated the property opposite the cafe on Nicholson street. She immediately called the school and we lined up a viewing.

We put in a proposal and a few weeks later we walked into our new studios at the former monastery at 97 Nicholson street. It was magical! It was completely empty and smelt funny. We pulled up a lot of carpet and painted over the Steiner pastel sponged walls. Within 24 hours we filled the 16 studios with talented artists and creatives. Slowly since March 2011 we have taken over more and more former classrooms and offices. We now house 75 creatives.

What are your own creative backgrounds and what lead you to joining forces on this project?

I trained as a printmaker at VCA and RMIT. I went on to study illustration in London in 2008. I have continued my practice making prints, illustrations and textile works. (website here).

Alice’s training was dance, and then Media Arts at Deakin and RMIT. She runs No Lights No Lycra with Heidi Barrett and continues to make awesome music video clips for some pretty great bands (including Otouto, Hello Satellites, Oliver Mann).

I think we have a really great way of working together. I approach things like a printmaker, very process based, lots of attention to detail and Alice’s approach is more like a filmmaker staging a set. She is across all the big stuff and is a great connector of people and ideas.

What do you think is most special about Schoolhouse Studios?

Schoolhouse is such a warm and supportive community. Everyone’s practice is so diverse and unique. I love working alongside so many talented people. The setting at Nicholson street is dreamy. We inhabit a former monastery and school (down the road from the Convent). My studio is on the first floor with city and treetop views. It feels like being in the country in the middle of the city. The chooks and roosters crowing in the Steiner Prep’s garden below probably adds to the atmosphere!

What is your proudest achievement ?

Probably our proudest achievement is being able to provide 75 creatives with affordable work spaces and being able to connect all these awesome people to one another.

What is your next challenge?

We have to relocate (because the property is in planning to be developed into 80 townhouses) at the end of this year. We are on the hunt for a new space….

And there’s the rub. Nothing this awesome is forever… later this year, after less than two years in operation, Schoolhouse Studios will be on the move. But Alice and Elizabeth are matter-of-fact about it, and not surprisingly, they’ve taken on this new challenge with a sense of optimism. They always knew this space would only ever be temporary, and in a way, perhaps that’s part of what has made this venture all the more special.

Do show your support for this incredible initiative with a visit to the Schoolhouse Studios website, to see what these crazy kids are up to, and learn a little more about the talented creatives who work here. (The Schoolhouse Studios blog is also worth a visit, documenting studio events such as their ‘farewell asbestos’ dinner last year!).

Also, if you know some amazing arts benefactor with a massive vacant warehouse (or school!) somewhere in Melbourne’s inner North, you should totally get in touch!

Feeling the classroom vibe yet? This door leads to architect Lauren Steller’s studio – Steller Atelier. Love the diagonal stripe created using masking tape!

Steller Atelier architecture studio. Lauren Steller basically has my dream studio.

Steller Atelier – architecture studio

Steller Atelier – this studio used to be the home economics lab, so it has a kitchen – EXCEPT the kitchen is tiny, like, child size. The benchtops and stovetop are about knee-height. Ha ha!

More sweet details from the Steller Atelier studio

This space belongs to my dear talented friends Gavin and Lily from The Apiary! Filmmakers extraordinaire.

Gavin Youngs from The Apiary! He will kill me for including this portrait. Ha ha!

Filmy details at The Apiary. What a handsome 8mm camera. Take note of the NEON lights under the blackboard, I was supposed to feature it more prominently (sorry Gavin).

Lily Coates from The Apiary

Studio in the treetops! This one belongs to Schoolhouse co-founder, illustrator/printmaker Elizabeth Barnett

Sweet details in the studio of illustrator/printmaker and Schoolhouse co-founder Elizabeth Barnett

Elizabeth Barnett at work

Painting in progress by Elizabeth Barnett

Artwork and studio details from Elizabeth Barnett

Communal kitchen downstairs. Love the yellow! And the obligatory ‘please do your own dishes’ signage ;)

Just in case you didn’t believe this was really a school…