City Hub

End of an era

Sherryl Ryan, founder of Culture at Work. Photo: Ann-marie Calilhanna

By ANNIE LEWIS

Bringing the arts, sciences, and a sense of community has been the passion of one Pyrmont resident for years. 

Sherryl Ryan, founder of Culture at Work, since 2008 has provided the suburb and surrounds with a gallery that focuses on bridging science and art. But, her history with the area started before that. 

“Many years ago I came here with other artists when there was nothing here,” she said.

“You could see all of the ground was flattened and you could see the Terminus pub on the corner, and so we sat there, and we had a beer, and we were taking photographs of Pyrmont at that time. 

“We hopped on to the unopened ANZAC bridge which had no cars on it, and we took photographs there. We had an exhibition of that.” 

In 2000, Sherryl and her family moved to Pyrmont after buying an apartment off the plan, and then in 2008, she discovered a vacant artist studio. It was this building that would be home to the long-term project Culture at Work. 

In that time, Sherryl has never been paid for her work, but to her, it has been very much worth it.

“We’ve had about 30 artists in residence in this building, and they’ve created phenomenal works,” she said. 

“It’s just been a brilliant opportunity for lots of artists. 

“It’s not just standing at an easel, but being able to meet scientists and work with universities and travel overseas and all different kinds of opportunities have come for lots of the artists who’ve been here.”

While she has studied the arts mainly, Sherryl has always been intrigued by the sciences after growing up in a family who found careers in that area. 

“So I guess that was the start of it, having a building and then trying to do something extraordinary,” she said. 

“Because I’d worked at Australian Council, I worked at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, I’d worked at the Object it was I felt so lucky to be able to have done all of those things, and I wanted to share it with other artists and support them and nurture them.”

Without a doubt, Pyrmont has gone through some dramatic changes since 2000. 

“Then you could walk down the street, and there was no one here,” Sherryl said. 

“It’s been a great place to have a community, and everyone is very supportive, and it’s been, what can I say? It’s like a privilege in some ways. 

“But the thing is that I’ve been able to also at the same time bring this building back to life.”   

In a “devastating” turn of events, the building that has been home to dozens of artists, and community events has been sold by the government. 

“We’ve put so many years and work into this and without asking for money other than ad hoc grants that we’ve been able to get from the City of Sydney or different trusts,” she said.

“So we worked hard to get the money to pay the rent of the building and the insurances, but because it’s been sold that means that we are only here for a short time now and we’ll have to leave. 

“Which will mean that Culture At Work won’t exist. The arts won’t be here in Pyrmont anymore.” 

Even during the coronavirus pandemic, Sherryl has found ways to help the community still.

“On the last Sunday of every month in front of our building we set up big trestle tables and we take boxes, paints and all these different materials out, and parents and kids come and play and make together,” she said. 

“They’d threatened before that they were going to sell the building, but we’d saved it every time. 

“It’s challenging for us because we’ve put so much in and it doesn’t make sense what’s happened to this building.”

Sherryl said that while the population density has increased, there is still an underlying sense of community. 

But, she encouraged her fellow residents to see past the luxury apartments and boutique stores. 

“In the past, the housing commission was very obvious, but now you wouldn’t know,” Sherryl said. 

“You see less poor people on the street I would say, but there’s still a lot of people who don’t have anywhere to go. And I think that’s a tragedy.

“We work in Pyrmont so there’s a lot of diverse organisations that are in Pyrmont and I guess that goes from the poor to the rich.” 

Sherryl said the board of Culture at Work, the artists and the community have all made the last 12 years an incredible experience. 

She added that while the face of Pyrmont may be changing, the community can still band together. 

 

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