Housed in the heritage-listed Malvern Fire Brigade building on Willis Street in Armadale, the Firestation has become a printmaking mecca in Melbourne’s inner east. It is a buzzing hub of activity where creativity is developed and explored within a supportive environment for emerging and established artists.
Firestation Print Studio’s picturesque red brick arches are a proud reminder that it was the volunteer fire brigade, who built the community centre so long ago. Until 1882, the residents of Malvern had to rely upon themselves for protection from fire outbreaks. In April 1882, steps were taken to form a volunteer hose and reel fire brigade. A committee of ratepayers presented a petition to the Shire Council asking for funds with which to form the brigade. The council decided to take no action. A group of the ratepayers from Malvern advertised that they would establish a fire brigade, and appealed to the residents for monetary assistance as they marched through the principal streets by torch light. Permission to march was given but the Council refused to allow a money collection to be made in the streets. This volunteer brigade, with occasional assistance from the Council and insurance companies, stayed active until the creation of a Metropolitan Fire Brigades Board in February 1891 resulted in the disbandment of the Volunteer Malvern Fire Brigade.
The new station was opened by the chairman of the Fire Brigades Board, Mr Aikman M.L.C. The station, which was placed under the control of Senior Fireman W. O’Brien, and is a handsome and completely equipped two-storey building that includes a waterhouse engine driven by petrol, a hose cart and hose reel. The building was designed by architects Oakden & Ballantyne for the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and closed in 1988, when the fire brigade moved to Waverley Road in Malvern East.
Stonnington Council purchased the building in 1989, and by August 1991 it was opened as a printmaking workshop with one electric press on loan from Andrew Grava. The group including Mr Grava, Jodi Heffernan, Brian Pieper, Bridget Hillebrand, Julie Lancaster, April Ikinci, Yvonne Watson and John Quinn rented the workshop, gallery and studios at very generous rates in return for providing programs that included the local community; such as classes in printmaking and life drawing.
Grant money was successfully acquired from the Victorian Government and matched by the local council to upgrade the building into a workshop, studios and gallery space. More (and varied) classes were run to further include the local community. Projects initiated by Firestation Print Studio build dynamic success stories in the local community. One such project providing a disability program in conjunction with the Dame Mary Herring Centre built participants skills to the point of creating a book of linocuts accepted into and sold at the prestigious Silk Cut Award. A busy schedule of creative and capacity building projects make Firestation Print Studio a hive of activity with regular group and exchange shows. By maintaining this buzz the Firestation Print Studio has become self-funded.
Four presses, a large hot plate, drying racks, an acid/wet room and a community meeting room are regularly used by the membership of over 110 artists – creating a community engaged and interested in learning about printmaking. All levels of expertise are encouraged and accepted into a supportive program of classes, workshops and projects. The membership includes eight artists-in-residence who rent the light-filled studios upstairs. The aim of the Firestation Print Studio continues to provide access to workshop equipment and educational programs for the benefit of the local community; practicing artists, art students, enthusiasts and beginners.
Eight dedicated committee members manage the running of the studio, with each member taking on voluntary roles. The task of day-to-day administration was made easier with the creation of a paid manager position in 2003. This allowed the studio to be open to the public three days per week with someone on site to answer the many enquiries from visitors and artists and to assist in the administration and promotion of the Studio. In 2013 a contract curator position was created to maintain the vibrant exhibition program that show cases contemporary print based work from the studio, local, interstate and international artists.
As the ties to the local arts community are maintained and enhanced, the studio continues to contribute the unique cultural life of the printmaking world in Australia and beyond.