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Art breathes new life into iconic Canberra cafe, The Front

Hayden Fritzlaff 18 May 2019
Photograph of The Front Gallery & Cafe with chalkboard in foreground

Visual art and a new team are bringing The Front Cafe & Gallery back into Canberra’s arts landscape. Photo: Hayden Fritzlaff.

It’s an Inner North icon, but somehow The Front Cafe & Gallery in Lyneham feels like a well-kept secret. It’s the kind of place you have to be a local to know about.

A recent change in ownership and subsequent refurbishment had some of those same locals sounding alarm bells that the Front might be losing its suburban charm. Those fears have since disappeared though – it’s kept that feel, leaned into it even, making use of its wide, bright windows and cosy, leafy surrounds to tread the line between bustling and intimate.

“We understand the history of the Front Gallery,” says Gallery Manager, Tegan Garnett. “We always appreciated it when the previous owner was running it. We also have really close ties with the local arts scene in Canberra, so we really appreciate the Front historically and the support it’s always provided and we hope for it to continue its important role.”

Garnett is part of The Front’s new creative team, one that also includes a graphic designer, a photographer and an essayist to dive into each exhibition and tease out links between works, artists and community. The current exhibition, ‘Fragments’, is a group show put together by six ANU School of Art graduates: Eleanor Neumann, Jess Higgins, Lani Shea-An, Shanti Shea-An, Romany Fairall and Mimi Fairall. It’s varied and intricate, and curated in line with the gallery’s revised principals: to support Canberra’s artists and showcase a diverse range of works, all within an intimate and historic artspace.

Painting showing areas of pink and green in geometric shapes

‘Crescent Meadow’ by Eleanor Neumann, Oil on canvas.

“The girls that I’m exhibiting with, we all went to the school of art together,” says painter, Eleanor Neumann. Most of us were there at the same time, there are a couple that are still there doing their honours. We’ve all supported each other through that experience and since we’ve graduated, which is going on four years now. It’s nice to be still connected with those people and still supporting each other through what we’re doing now.”

Each of the six artists brings their own distinct style and medium to the fore in ‘Fragments’, highlighting the different study pathways and workshops they undertook. Sitting in the gallery space (with a coffee in hand) and walking around experiencing each individual work, you can certainly feel that diversity. But careful curatorship and a sense of community make the show feel anything but disparate.

Photograph showing The Front chalkboard and text: 'Open ANZAC Day 8-2'

The Front in Lyneham has kept its charm throughout a change in ownership. Photo: Hayden Fritzlaff

“I think the refurb is amazing,” says Neumann. “The new management is really great. Tegan has been so great as the Gallery Manager, she’s been so helpful with everything. I do remember The Front as it used to be. I went to a lot of gigs there. But I think going forward, going into the exhibition space that they have now, it’s more gallery-focused than it was before. I feel like before it was more of a cafe and they sort of had the gallery on the end, but I feel like its more focused on the art now. They’re keeping it going, keeping it new and fresh.”

That trend looks set to continue, with a program of exhibitions and arts events on the way in June. Looking beyond visual art to bring in poetry, music and perhaps even comedy, The Front seems set to cover new ground, all while harking back to its history as a deeply-treasured Canberra secret. 

‘Fragments’ is showing at The Front Cafe & Gallery until May 6.

What are your impressions of the newly-refurbished Front?


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