Melbourne Athenaeum Restoration: outcomes

Benefits of project

Works undertaken in this project will increase community awareness of the Athenaeum's role and history. Some of the activities in this project may also create opportunities for work experience positions.

This project will contribute significantly to the ongoing preservation and conservation of the heritage building, while improving facilities for visitors and users. Improving facilities will also enhance rental opportunities.

The proposed works will increase theatre management's ability to attract companies and performers for more weeks of the year. An increase in performances will result in additional employment and work experience.

Melbourne Athenaeum Jobs Fund story

When the Melbourne Athenaeum celebrated its 170th anniversary in November 2009, it also celebrated its pivotal role in the cultural life of the city, having variously housed museum, theatre, film, library and gallery facilities.

Founded in 1839, the Classic Greek style building is still in use today as a library and theatre space, hosting opera, dramatic and comedy performances.

With its fine classical façade featuring central pilasters, and culminating in a crowning temple-like structure, the Athenaeum is an example of architecture associated with the Mechanics Institute adult education movement of the 19th century.

Thanks to $877,000 from the Australian Government's Jobs Fund initiative, the facilities are receiving a much needed face-lift.

Works include repair and upgrades to a 1930s lift, the fly tower, theatre seats and carpet, toilets, fire and entry doors, sub-floor drainage and extensive renovations on the theatre opera pit.

Melbourne Athenaeum executive officer Sophie Arnold said the theatre in particular is a much loved space. "Everybody loves the theatre because it's small and intimate and the acoustics are great, but it has been very tired. This funding is going to make an amazing difference to people's experience of being here," she said.

The project has also provided a boost for local employment.

"We have had 50 tradespeople on site at various times. Because there are limited opportunities to work on heritage buildings, they were excited to work on the Athenaeum and see the difference it is making. There have been apprentices on board as well, so the knowledge is being shared.

"We have developed ongoing relationships with some of the tradesmen and they will be doing further work for us in the future.

"We used a heritage advisor and other specialists to make sure we met all the heritage and technical requirements. For example we employed specialist technicians for the opera pit in terms of acoustics and movement.

"Reinstating the opera pit has already added to the experience not only of our theatre goers, but also members of the orchestra. Until we received this funding there was no removable floor and orchestra members used to have to basically crawl into this void under the floor! Now they are open for everyone to see and the conductor can see the stage and the singers for the first time.

"At the opening of the Barber of Seville, the experience was so amazing people were raving."