1 Sep 2019 — 30 Apr 2020

10am – 5pm Monday to Friday

11am – 4pm Saturday and Sunday

VENUE: Customs House Library, Level 1 and Level 2

This wide-ranging art and social history exhibition considers five decades of life in Sydney through artist-led projects that have sought to care about its people and places.


How the City Cares presents artists’ projects from the 1970s to today in which themes of social inclusion, support for young people, rights to land and shelter and concern for urban environment, flow through and towards future possibilities and potentials. It moves from environmental and educational innovations, to the history of protests, and reflects on how Sydney and its citizens have treated each other over time, while raising questions about and ideas for the future.

The works featured in How the City Cares take a variety of forms, including the documentation of long-term community resistance; creative support for community-run activities and spaces; portable contexts for teaching and learning; design approaches that re-think our relationship to land and water (and who owns it); and innovations for reversing environmental and cultural damage.

How the City Cares recognises library spaces as places of care, and one of the last remaining public places to offer warmth and human dignity to everyone. This exhibition is presented on two levels of the Customs House Library, with its narrative of care and the creative ways it is enacted in the city flowing between them.

Artists: Rebecca Conroy, Brenda L Croft, Keg de Souza, Bonita Ely, Future Method, Sarah Goffman, Deborah Kelly, SquatSpace and posters from the Tin Sheds Poster Collection, The University of Sydney. Curated by Bec Dean.

Supported by Customs House and the City of Sydney.

Artist Biography

Brenda L Croft

Brenda L Croft is from the Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra peoples of the Victoria River region of the Northern Territory of Australia, and Anglo Australian/German/Irish/Chinese heritage. Brenda is based in Canberra where she is Associate Professor, Indigenous Art History and Curatorship at the Centre for Art History and Art Theory, School of Art and Design, ANU. Brenda’s artistic practice encompasses critical performative Indigenous auto-ethnography, Indigenous Storying, representation and identity, creative narratives, installation, multi-media and multi-platform work. Drawing extensively on personal and public archives, her creative practice engages with re/memory and memorialisation.

Keg de Souza

Keg de Souza is a highly acclaimed Australian interdisciplinary artist. Informed by her training in architecture and her experience of radical spaces through squatting and organising, her practice explores spatial politics and the built environment. She works across mediums including temporary architecture, video, drawing, mapping, performance and artists-books, to develop experiences that explore the politics of space. De Souza creates site and situation-specific projects, emphasising reciprocity and knowledge exchange. Her work has been included in the Sydney Biennale (2016), Setouchi Triennale (2016), Auckland Triennial (2013) and Jakarta Biennale (2013).

Bonita Ely

Bonita Ely, a pioneer of cross disciplinary, environmental and socio-political art, imaginatively deploys mixed mediums, actions and processes to represent her ideas. For example, in the 1970s, after witnessing severe air pollution in London and New York, she created her first installation, At Home with the Locust People. Her 1980 performance, Murray River Punch responded to official reports of the river’s pollution. The 1990s introduced us to rapacious, genetically engineered half rabbit/half snail Snabbits. At Documenta 14 in Athens, Plastikus Progressus addressed the plastics pollution of water’s ecology. Bonita is an Honorary Associate Professor, UNSW, and represented by Milani Gallery, Brisbane.

Sarah Goffman

Sarah Goffman has exhibited in hundreds of shows in Australia and overseas, most notably Unfinished Business at ACCA (2017), Plastici at Penrith Regional Gallery (2012), Trashcan Dreams at Performance Space (2010), Paradise Found at Tin Sheds Gallery (2008), and Situation at Museum of Contemporary Art (2005).  Most recently, her large-scale work at Murray Art Museum, Albury called Bridge to Asia, presented hundreds of small sculptures installed under a bamboo, unscaleable bridge. Sarah’s work is concerned with consumerism, she uses rubbish and plastic consumer items, transforming them into decorative, desirable and sometimes uncanny objects.

Future Method

Future Method, founded in 2013, is a collaborative and interdisciplinary practice that works across architecture, art, installation and speculative research projects. The focus of the studio is on material culture and creative methodologies that are impact and process driven. Future Method is a partnership between Genevieve Murray & Joel Sherwood-Spring. They seek to extend and enrich established notions of contemporary art and architecture, using methods that intersect with these disciplines in the public domain.

Deborah Kelly

Deborah Kelly is a Sydney-based artist whose works have been shown around Australia, and in the Biennales of Singapore, Sydney, Thessaloniki, Tarra Warra and Venice. In 2017 her first international solo exhibition, Venus Envy, was held at the Kvindemuseet in Aarhus, Denmark. Kelly’s work has been presented in group exhibitions at MOMA PS1 in NYC, the ICA in London, the Hammer Museum in LA and the Pera Museum in Istanbul. Her projects are concerned with collective making, and the politics and histories of artistic representation.

Rebecca Conroy

Rebecca Conroy is an artist working across site, community engagement, and performative interventions. Her work is bound up in the playful occupation of non-art fields such as urban planning, economics, and housing, in particular cities and the rise of the creative entrepreneur in capitalism. In 2015 she spent 3 months going on a series of dates with economists in Europe and USA, for an audio piece called Dating an Economist commissioned by Radio National (2016). In 2017 she premiered her work Iron Lady, a performance intervention set in the finance district of Adelaide, SA.


SquatSpace is a collective of artist/activists that focuses on creative responses to the politics of space and gentrification. SquatSpace (Diego Bonetto, Lucas Ihlein, Mickie Quick and Keg de Souza) evolved as a side project of the Broadway Squats, opening a shopfront artist/activist-run-gallery from 2000-2001. The gallery provided a cost-free space for political and experimental projects, and acted as a critique of the cripplingly expensive inner-Sydney gallery rental system. Since losing its original venue, SquatSpace has continued to produce site-specific art events, like Squatfest 2001-8 and the ongoing Redfern-Waterloo Tour of Beauty.