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Spray'n'Gripe: Put the Arts Centre inside the free tram zone, you cowards

Arts Centre Melbourne free tram zone Time Out Melbourne
Photograph: Graham Denholm

At Time Out, we firmly believe that art is a fundamental human right. Perhaps the most fundamental. Like Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, who often bought Vogue instead of dinner, we believe that art and culture is more nourishing than just about anything else.

And we know that the Victorian government tends to agree with us. It’s one of the most arts-supportive state governments around, and MPs love to claim that Melbourne is the arts capital of Australia. It supports the National Gallery of Victoria, which pulls in almost double the visitors of any other gallery in the country each year, and Victoria is constantly in competition with the NSW government to secure the premieres of major musicals.

So why, in the name of Carrie Bradshaw, is the Arts Centre precinct outside of the free tram zone? That magical green patch in the centre of the city where you’re free from the pounce of a transport officer. The free tram zone is designed to help us get around the CBD and take in more of Melbourne, but it finishes at Federation Square, the stop immediately before the Arts Centre. 

And sure, you can always get off and take the short walk across the Princes Bridge, but that’s hardly the point. That’s not useful when you’re rushing to make an 8pm curtain after dinner or have a mobility issue, and it can be confusing and uninviting for interstate and international visitors who’ve come to enjoy Melbourne’s rich arts scene. You can be up for $248 if you unwittingly stay on just one stop too far, under the very fair assumption that Arts Centre Melbourne and the National Gallery of Victoria would be inside the zone. 

It’s largely symbolic, but the choice to exclude the Arts Centre precinct suggests that Melburnians’ enjoyment of the arts isn’t necessarily front of mind in the government’s decision-making. Especially when the zone already extends outside of the city’s immediate grid: over to the Melbourne Star at Docklands in the west, and all the way up to Queen Victoria Market in the north. These are obvious tourist destinations, so why does the Arts Centre not factor into this thinking?

And why just the Arts Centre precinct, for that matter? Let’s extend the zone even further down Sturt Street and St Kilda Road to get you all the way to the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and Malthouse Theatre. These are other important Melbourne institutions that you have to fork out just to get to.

If Melbourne is to be regarded as Australia’s culture capital, all of our thinking and infrastructure needs to be thrown behind our culture. And that starts with basic things like access. So free up the Arts Centre stop from the clutches of transport officers. It’s time.

Ben Neutze is Time Out Australia’s national arts and culture editor. He’s based in Sydney but has previously lived in Melbourne and travels here regularly for our arts and culture offerings. He’s just spent four days navigating Southbank for Melbourne Festival and really just wants to throw his Myki away.

Not deterred by a tram fare? Here are all the best shows in Melbourne this month.

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