Skin: Making space for artists

It’s not often you see a throng of people spilling out onto the pavement from a “for lease” city shopfront – DJ pumping, chorizo sizzling, and passersby stopping to peer curiously through the windows. Here’s how it happened.

Written by Renew Adelaide

May 21, 2024

Lili Harrison talking to attendee at the exhibition launch.

Looking for space

When Lili Harrison approached Renew Adelaide before Christmas with a one-week exhibition concept, she needed one thing: accessible, affordable space to showcase artists’ work. The Renew Adelaide team had recently secured a tenant for a Grenfell Street property in Adelaide Arcade, not due to be activated until February. They saw a gap. With its white walls, concrete floor and natural light, the space lent itself perfectly to a small gallery.

And so ‘Skin’ was born: a temporary exhibition featuring nine local emerging artists. The show saw sculptors, glass artists, painters, photographers and more coming together to create work exploring the human body in its many forms.

Breaking down the barriers

Driven by a desire to create grassroots opportunities for young artists, Lili transformed this blank canvas into an immersive arts experience. She provided emerging artists with a unique, cost-free opportunity to exhibit their work – pushing back against the barriers to entry of traditional galleries.

“It was a great way for artists to show their work and experience a sense of community,” Lili explains. “It was free for artists to participate, which allowed them to explore new ideas. Non-traditional spaces are so liberating for young people. The experience gave me a lot of confidence in my work and my ability to bring people together.”

Furniture, glass and print artworks on display at the Skin exhibition.
Exhibition attendees looking at art on the walls.

Arts and culture as the beating heart of the city

For Adelaide Arcade custodian Andrew Jonats, the exhibition was a great example of placemaking principles put into practice. “Placemaking is about combining different elements to get a result that benefits everyone. In a space like Adelaide Arcade, that includes not only traditional rent-paying tenants, but occupants – often in the arts and culture sector – who bring something out of the ordinary.”

Lili echoes the importance of providing accessible, culturally rich experiences in our city. “When we explore other cities, we visit the galleries, museums and festivals. These are the things that fill our cups. They’re not just tourist attractions – they give residents and community a reason to feel excited about their city. They also create jobs and opportunities for creatives.”

Saying yes

Lili Harrison’s ‘Skin’ exhibition is a wonderful example of what’s possible when barriers to entry are reduced, and when everyone involved says “yes”. At the time of publication, the tenancy has since been brought to life by mid-century furniture retailer and Renew Adelaide venture Housewarmers.

“Short-term arts activations add value, and give precincts a point of difference that draws people in,” Andrew says. “From a property industry perspective, you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by giving it a go.”

DJ spinning beats at Skin exhibition launch.