words CAITLIN MORIARTY photos LIAV SHALEV
A creative life can be a lonely one – think of the artist in their tower, the musician bent over their piano at midnight, the writer silently staring at a blank page.
But, in light of the ways we’ve been separated from each other over the last few years, co-working spaces have become a welcome option for artists, offering not only the opportunity to gather and find inspiration but also micro-economies where creatives can build their businesses together, activate their own spaces and thrive as a community.
The Nest Creative Space is one such place. Opening in 2013, the social impact space and artist-run collective has been a central part of Sydney’s art scene for the last decade and now has expanded to open a second venue in Brisbane’s West End.
Run by Melissa ‘Missy’ Gilbert – contemporary artist, experience designer and community cultural leader – and her multi-disciplinary partner, Daniel Bourne, both the Sydney and Brisbane spaces are designed more as a “bespoke artist’s retreat” than a generic co-working space.
“Dan and I have always been party makers – big parties, events, immersive experience designs,” Missy explains. “It was very organic that we collected other artists. We started The Nest for ourselves and then invited other people in and that became a creative space. Then it was an uphill climb in learning about what it was to actually run a space.
“I think it’s different when you start trying to make a creative space and you’re not an artist. It wouldn’t land and it becomes a business versus a vision. It’s a different intention.”
This first iteration of the venue in Sydney ran for five years before the space was demolished. Then in 2018, with a collective of artists who wanted to continue, Missy and Dan took on a bigger warehouse in Alexandria. Today, the space holds 90 “nesters” plus a pop-up gallery space, photography studio and photo lab. In West End, which launched this past July, The Nest is filled with 27 artists alongside The Gallery, Pop Up shop and The Lab which are all available for permanent nesters to activate. These front facing spaces are also available for the public to hire as event space, performance space, content creation, art shows, workshops and launches.
“We’d been looking for a new space [in Brisbane] for three years,” says Missy. “It’s so hard to find affordable spaces that you can actually develop – that you can build into and know that it has some kind of longevity.”
We had to drop everything and just go and live, breathe and be in that building – to see what the building wanted from us and how it wanted to be designed.
Creating the space has been an absolute labour of love for the pair, and sustainability is an essential consideration for a build, both for environmental and practical reasons.
“Every single part of it is built by the two of us physically,” Missy shares. “We’ve never received funding – we have funded every inch of the space from our own artworks and our own commissions. All of the walls and materials are made from upcycled or recycled materials, many found on [Facebook] Marketplace. Every single part is secondhand other than some furniture.”
“The whole build was seven weeks from signing the lease,” she continues. “We had to drop everything and just go and live, breathe and be in that building – to see what the building wanted from us and how it wanted to be designed.”
Both spaces share a similar look and feel – one which has been thoughtfully curated by Dan and Missy. White walls, exposed brick and beams, flexible shelving options and light wood palettes separating each nest are part of their signature style. Greenery drapes from the ceiling and shared spaces are thoughtfully styled with pieces from Missy and Dan’s own collection of furniture and commissioned artworks.
“We want this to feel polished but also let artists know they can make mess here”, says Missy. “We never want the space to feel like a dental surgery, we want the space to feel the heart and soul that has gone into its creation. I think what we offer is safe; there’s space for possibility. I feel like it’s more than a creative space; it’s a space to heal and a space to grow. That feels like a response to COVID – every single person that came in when we did our walkthroughs and tours was saying, ‘I’m ready to connect again. I’m ready to create art that heals or ready to be that support network for others.’ It feels really magical.”
It somehow just resonated with people as being a safe, inclusive, genderless, timeless space.
Fostering those feelings of connection and community is obviously an essential part of the pair’s work, and the space is especially important for artists and creatives who sometimes feel ostracised from traditional co-working spots.
“This is the third build for me and Dan and because we have learned so much over the last 10 years, this model felt so refined,” Missy shares. “There was already a platform, an ethos, even the language we use. We didn’t call out to anyone or poach or seek anybody actually – all the people that came into us are incredible.
“It somehow resonated with people as being a safe, inclusive, genderless, timeless space.”
And while Missy and Dan may have started the spaces, what happens within them is completely up to the community.
“We give them the platform and say, ‘This is your space, come to us and activate it,'” she says. “We give them that full ownership and full trust. I think that the change of roles is really empowering for them. The space is really about trying, testing, experimenting and exploring.”
This has seen the spaces activated for a variety of reasons, including markets, exhibitions, parties and more, all facilitated by the artists themselves, working together as a group. With a focus on emerging artists, the symbolism of a nest resonates.
We love when people leave the nest – if they grow out of the nest and fly away, they grow into another business or they even make new spaces.
“We really pride ourselves on being an incubator space, and what that means is a space where people can emerge. We love when people leave the nest – if they grow out of the nest and fly away, they grow into another business or they even make new spaces,” Melissa concludes.
“It’s feeling really beautiful that we can give these spaces to the communities and then just keep checking in on them and feeding and nourishing them, but they almost feel like they’re growing themselves.”