Adelaide’s Creative Quarter: Exploring the West End’s artistic riches

8 December 2023

Always eclectic and a little peculiar, the West End is an art lover's haven which has established itself as the creative quarter of Adelaide’s CBD.

Mural by Dave Court

As a city with a long and proud history of artistic excellence, Adelaide is a leader in the Australian art scene, having established some of the country’s finest arts festivals. 

As one of the South Australia government’s priority sectors, our local creative industry is a much celebrated part of our community and continues to grow in new and exciting directions within a dynamic and collaborative environment.

While North Terrace is home to the large institutions of art and culture, it is the West End that has quietly been establishing itself as the true “creative quarter” of the city. 

Always eclectic and a little off-beat, the West End is an art lover’s haven, where education, innovation, food, and art come together in a thriving urban community.


Space to be

Creativity requires dedicated space to experiment and collaborate, and for those looking for something to challenge your expectations the West End has a number of contemporary art spaces for new ideas to develop and flourish and provides access for creatives wanting to follow their own path.

The most prominent of these is South Australia’s leading independent contemporary visual arts organisation, Adelaide Contemporary Experimental (ACE) Gallery. 

Presenting work that has been referred to as “unapologetically radical,” ACE has emerged as a place for artists to experiment and take risks, resulting in curious and challenging exhibitions and collaborations with fascinating outcomes. 

This space has become a favourite for those looking for inspiration and has attracted some of the country’s most innovative artists.

Their annual program of free exhibitions celebrates innovative experimental arts and features local, national, and international artists from a range of disciplines. 

The gallery also presents talks, performances, workshops, film screenings, accessibility tours, and other events that are all open to the public.

Just a short walk around the corner is Light ADL, a combined exhibition and hospitality space focused on immersive light and art. 

At the core of Light ADL’s offering is the Lab, a multi-functional events space that features 50 square metres of LED screens and hosts a wide range of artists, digital sculptors, bands, DJs, theatre, and dance. 

Their performance and exhibition programming is carefully curated, with established names featuring alongside younger artists. 

Many of these new creatives are part of the Lab Rats, a collective of artists from a variety of disciplines that have connected through the weekly artistic workshop programs hosted at the Lab. 

Sharing a passion for immersive audio, visual, performance, art, science, and technology, the Lab Rats regularly share their art at Light in collaborative and sensory-stimulating productions that make use of the unique setup. 

This approach allows individual artists to connect and build networks with others across the industry as they establish their careers. 

Light ADL is also the perfect place for an arts lover to grab a bite to eat or a casual drink, as all money generated goes back into providing new opportunities for artists in the space.

For something a little more tactile, JamFactory is a globally recognised centre for excellence in ceramics, glass, furniture, and jewellery and metal. 

Through their world-class studios, JamFactory has attracted some of the best artisans in the world and fostered emerging talent for over 50 years. 

Today, its gallery hosts an outstanding annual exhibition program, public seminars, and touring exhibitions that promote the best Australian craft and design talent. 

The JamFactory shop is a mainstay of the South Australian arts scene and the perfect place to find the perfect gift for a special occasion, with all purchases directly supporting their training and exhibition programs.


Out in the open

It has been a swift evolution for street art, from the early forms of rebellious graffiti into a message driven art form which can connect with young people in particular. 

Adelaide’s street art culture has thrived since the city was named among the best street art cities in the world by Lonely Planet, and the West End has offered the perfect canvas for street artists to share their craft. 

The largest of these pieces is by local artist Dave Court’s mural located near Morphett and Hindley Streets, which celebrates Adelaide being named a designated UNESCO City of Music – the only Australian city given this honour. 

Court interviewed a wide range of South Australian artists and musicians to create a mural that reflects how live music showcases Adelaide’s unique heritage, multicultural diversity, and artistic culture. 

When asked about the common thread from his conversation with artists, Court pointed to how a city the size of Adelaide continues to make a big effort internationally.

“Australia is kind of in the corner globally, and Adelaide is perpetually in the shadow of Sydney and Melbourne – but time and again people talked about how this is a positive thing, that people are able to create something unique in this relative isolation and that Adelaide has always punched above its weight in terms of artistic and musical output,” Court said.

“Adelaide is at the size where it’s large enough that it can support and produce a heap of excellent artists, but still small enough that it’s possible to meet or know a large proportion of artists working in the city, and everyone is a friend of a friend. This allows lots of great potential for connection, collaboration, learning, and growing for everyone involved.”

You can explore the other street art of the West End on a walking trail that can be found here


Art on campus

The West End has become a hub for art education and exhibition, with the next generation of artists and innovators coming together to learn and be inspired in the middle of the creative quarter. 

The Adelaide College of the Arts established itself in the West End in 2001 and is Australia’s only tertiary institution housing performing arts, visual arts, and design in one purpose-built home. 

Students study film and TV, digital media, sound and technical production, acting, dance, visual arts, fashion, and photography in a district filled with galleries, museums, and other creatives.

The University of South Australia’s large West End campus is also home to three public art galleries. 

All three galleries offer free public entry and generous opening hours, making their evolving collections available to the whole community. 

The award-winning MOD has become a favourite for young South Australian art lovers thanks to its future-focused exhibitions that combine science, art, and innovation. 

Designed specifically for people aged 15 to 25, the gallery presents engaging in-gallery and online exhibitions each year, along with an extensive program of workshops, talks, and events. 

The University’s commitment to contemporary art can also be seen at the Samstag Museum of Art, one of Australia’s leading university visual art museums. 

The Samstag is renowned nationally for its outstanding artistic programming of diverse and innovative exhibitions, publications, and public activities. 

For an eye to the future, student work can be seen at the SASA Gallery, which is a centre for exhibition, research, and integrated learning experiences for UniSA students.


On the big screen

Nothing beats an afternoon in a dark cinema with a box of popcorn, and there is no better place to see something a little out of the ordinary than at the West End’s The Mercury.

The Mercury Cinema is one of Adelaide’s hidden gems and has been a much-loved hub for screen culture in South Australia for almost 30 years. 

Their carefully curated offering of movies caters to every taste, from cinematheque, uniquely Australian tales, and carefully crafted international cinema gives film lovers access to stories they are unlikely to see at mainstream theatres. 

For cinema lovers, the Mercury offers a $25 subscription offer, giving the holder unlimited standard cinema screenings from their four screening programs. 

This Adelaide icon loves a film festival and is a proud host of the Adelaide Fringe, Flickerfest on Tour, The Adelaide Film Festival, Launch Short Film Festival, Underexposed, and the 48h Hour Film Project. 

The South Australian Screen Awards are also hosted at the Mercury each year, and many of the winning films are shown by the cinema throughout the year. 

Beyond the cinema, the Mercury plays an important role in supporting the next generation of South Australian filmmakers through live talks with industry experts, training courses, filmmaking bootcamps, workshops and community outreach programs.

So grab a choc top and take your seat!


West End beats

The West End has always been the home of South Australia’s live music scene, providing a platform for many emerging artists to hone their craft in front of a live, receptive audience. 

Live music continues to be a drawcard for this quarter of the city, with venues like the Lions Art Factory, Jive, and the Grace Emily being favourites for their intimate setups and ability to attract musicians of all genres. 

For artists seeking a larger space, look no further than the latest addition to this precinct, the Hindley Street Music Hall

With capacity to accommodate up to 1800 fans, the site has undergone a $6 million redevelopment and now hosts comedy, theatre, and musicians of all genres throughout the week. 

Recent headliners have included Australian favourites like G-Flip, the Wombats, and King Stingray, as well as international acts such as The Amity Affliction, Bloc Party, and The Darkness. 

The venue is now preparing to become a popular destination during the Adelaide Fringe.

If you’re interested in learning more about music events in this corner of the city, the Adelaide West End Association maintains an up-to-date events listing.


Plenty to see

It is the combination of these venues and many others across the West End which drives the momentum of the South Australian art scene.

The South Australian creative industry is a powerhouse, contributing an estimated $1.8 billion to the South Australian economy in 2020-21, and employs more than 15,000 people.

This buzzing community has an infectious influence on other future focused industries which are thriving in South Australia and who benefit from being immersed in the visionary ideas and innovative environment generated by our creative industry. 

It is this symbiotic relationship and openness to collaboration which creates a special environment for new ideas to emerge and local creatives to flourish.

So, follow your imagination and venture to the West End—who knows what inspiration you might find.