Just four kilometres North–East of Melbourne’s CBD, the Abbotsford Convent — spreading over 16 acres on the banks of the Yarra river — is Australia’s largest multi–arts precinct. The former convent is home to over 100 studios, two galleries, a few cafes, a radio station, a school, and an abundance of green open space.

In the midst of this inner–city refuge lays Sacred Heart: a 2,000 square meters, two storey building destined to be renovated. Abiding to the renovation grant requirements, Sacred Heart aimed to attract tenants affiliated with the digital industry.

For any organisation, the first step towards going digital always is to understand what that means. For some it’s about designing new interfaces and experiences while for others it’s about defining an entirely new way of talking about themselves. These definitions are not necessarily incorrect but such diverse perspectives often result in a lack of clarity about where organisations need to go.

Pierre, 2016 Abbotsford Convent | what we made | future ensemble

Thanks to our research with key stakeholders, past and current tenants, and potential future tenants involved in the digital space, we uncovered rich human and system insights that helped us design a strategy to best activate Sacred Heart.

We identified that the Melbourne–based community of digital artists and creative technologists is rather small, made up of a dozen practitioners and a handful of organisations who all know each other quite well. Morever, we demonstrated that analog and digital artists have the same intrinsic needs. They need to be heard and be seen to survive and need to be provided with an environment that is conducive to good work — i.e. access to adequate infrastructures.

Sean, 2016 Abbotsford Convent | what we made | future ensemble

Based on the agreed principle that the future of Sacred Heart should not be considered in isolation of what is already happening at the convent, we proposed a strategy to activate the site, with the hope to create the first Australian Centre for Digital Art in the future.