History & About

The Realisation of a Dream

From its modest beginnings, it now has classes in painting, drawing, ceramics, life drawing, printmaking, jewellery, botanical art, sculpture and children’s art. Over 30 professional exhibiting artists teach and join students in exhibitions in the Ewart Gallery.

The founder, Joy Ewart (born 1916), was a teacher and artist, and after she made two trips overseas in 1949 and in 1959 as a Fulbright scholar, was inspired by what she experienced to start an arts centre in Sydney, embracing all the visual arts. In 1955 she opened a painting studio in Chatswood, where her love for encouraging creativity was realised with practical art classes for adults, adolescents and children. On her return to Australia in 1960, after researching graphic arts overseas, she set up presses for lithography and etching in her Chatswood studio, making it the only open access studio for printmakers in Sydney.

The concept of a centre embracing all the visual arts was adopted by fellow artists, students and friends, and a committee was formed on 5 June 1961 – the North Shore Workshop Arts Centre, (changed in 1965 to the Workshop Arts Centre), with Joy Ewart as Honorary Art Director. Membership subscriptions were accepted and fund-raising began. By 1962 the donations of one hundred members helped with both rent and studio costs. A disused furrier’s warehouse at 33 Laurel Street was chosen as suitable premises in 1963 and has remained the home of the Workshop Arts Centre ever since.

The lease was signed, and after much cleaning and some structural alterations, classes began in painting, then sculpture and pottery. A lithography press was transferred from Joy Ewart’s old studio and used to set up the first fine printmaking workshop in New South Wales. An appeal to members and students made it possible to buy the building with the aid of a bank loan, thus ensuring the future of the Centre.

Sadly Joy Ewart, whose health had not been good throughout her life, died on 4 July 1964, aged 47. She had laboured ceaselessly to release the creative spirit dormant in everyone, bringing back community arts into public consciousness in a powerful and exciting way.

The Workshop Arts Centre was a model for many new arts centres in the 1970’s, although it is different from many other art centres in that it is a self-funded institution. We aim to incorporate teaching in all art forms, develop critical awareness of formal aesthetic values and develop technical ability – all as a foundation for the expression of ideas.

Joy chose as the Centre’s motto, Voltaire’s statement, “All arts are brothers, each a light unto the other”.

Today the Workshop Arts Centre is a living, growing testimonial to the indomitable spirit and inspiration of a frail woman who had the rare gift of being able to pass on an original vision to others, so that they may share the joy known to those who create.

A Cultural Sanctuary in the Middle of Suburbia

The Workshop Arts Centre (WAC) is an independent not-for-profit art centre and workshop facility established by the late Joy Ewart with assistance from fellow artists and supporters in 1961 to promote and foster appreciation in the creative and visual arts.

The Workshop’s birth is an example of a challenge being met and turned into success by the enthusiasm, initiative and hard work of ordinary people who felt strongly enough about the need for a cultural establishment on the North side of the Harbour. In cultural terms, the WAC has established itself as a unique and valuable asset within the local and broader community.

WAC users have access to a wide range of professionally equipped studios. There are three large adaptable studios used for writing, painting and drawing, as well as ceramics, printmaking, jewellery and sculpture studios. The WAC is also home to the Ewart gallery. The WAC is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee.

What does the Workshop Arts Centre do?

The Workshop Arts Centre provides an alternative to existing art schools and a supplement to existing art societies. The aim is to encourage and develop individual contemporary and challenging work in all fields of artistic expression.

The WAC is supported in its aims and endeavours by a group of independent teaching artists. Today the WAC is a busy place where over thirty teaching and visiting artists offer first-rate tuition across some fifty classes each week, in the genres of painting, drawing, printmaking, ceramics, sculpture, photography, jewellery, writing and children’s art.

How is it funded?

The Workshop Arts Centre maintains itself from annual membership subscriptions, student fees, studio hire fees from teachers and artists, income from gallery hire and sales from the Ewart Gallery. These have always been supplemented by fundraising functions and donations.

The Workshop Arts Centre Development Fund is a tax deductible fund listed on the Register of Cultural Organisations under subdivision 30-B of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997. All donations of $2.00 or more to the Workshop Arts Centre Development Fund are tax deductible.

Is there a membership requirement?

Membership is available to all and is separate from student enrollment into a class. Becoming a member of the Workshop Arts Centre entitles you to many benefits.

Can I be sure of receiving quality teaching?

The teaching artists at the Workshop Arts Centre are highly qualified (usually Masters in Fine Arts) with many years of teaching experience and as practicing artists and exhibitors. Visiting artist’s workshops and master classes are also held throughout the year, offering intensive weekend or longer workshops in specific areas of expertise. The Workshop Arts Centre prides itself in continual growth. The WAC offers a creative community in which established and emerging artists can support, inspire and challenge one another.

The high standards attained by students in art prizes in Australia and international competition is testament to the quality of tuition at the WAC.

Can I exhibit?

The Ewart Gallery was named in honour of the Workshop Art Centre’s founding member, the late Joy Ewart. The exhibition program includes works of visiting artists, members, students and teachers, some of whom are represented in prestigious collections both in Australia and overseas. The exhibitions committee welcomes exhibition proposals from individuals and groups of artists to contribute to a diverse program across a range of disciplines.