The middle of a pandemic might seem an odd time to inject $10 million into creating a new Adelaide arts hub, but for a couple who returned home as COVID-19 ran riot across the Western world, it makes perfect sense.

Key points:

  • A not-for-profit performance venue launches in Adelaide with a view to be self-funded
  • The Lab has ramped up its visual aspect with 50 square metres of high-end LED screens
  • Art and hospitality leaders are onboard to curate and lead the establishment of the hub

Nick and Sophie Dunstone launched their not-for-profit venue The Lab on the weekend, with a showcase opening of local artists, including Adam Page, Emma Horwood and MRLN X RKM.

It is the crown in a $10 million investment towards creating a modern art and hospitality hub for the city, which Mr Dunstone said was more important than ever.

“When big events with lots of people are difficult to organise, the need to utilise big technology and online capabilities to connect people has become increasingly important.”

He said The Lab sought to have the intimacy of an artist space typically located “in the classic back room of a pub”, but with the “highest end of both audio and visual technology”.

“The idea emerged to create a hospitality venue and a performance venue using technology to create a digital canvas for artists and performers.”

The Lab includes 50 square metres of high-end LED screens.(Supplied: Jack Fenby)

Not for hire

The Lab features a state-of-the-art 50-square-metre LED display that Mr Dunstone hopes will become a drawcard for “immersive” art.

“The capacity for The Lab is only 250, but it’s surrounded by very high-end immersive LED screens that are used in a way that means you can take the performer, and audience, to anywhere, or any imagination, in the world,” he said.

What also distinguished The Lab from other privately funded spaces, he said, was the fact the high-tech space would not be for hire.

Instead, its art program will be curated by Music SA chairperson Anne Wiberg, one of several well-connected people on Adelaide’s art scene who have helped steer the Dunstones’ vision.


“It will be a curated space where we can provide the best facility for artists and the best diversity for audiences.

“That’s another way to rethink the model; the idea being that we believe in them and the way they want to creatively use the space.”

A ‘lucky position’

The Dunstones last lived in Adelaide 20 years ago, having returned from London via quarantine last April as the pandemic broadened its impact world-wide.

Mr Dunstone said the inability to work overseas in the finance sector meant they had the opportunity to focus on a mutual passion — art and philanthropy.

Nick and Sophie Dunstone have long shared a passionate interest in the arts.(Supplied: Jack Fenby)

He said their first goal was to find a suitable building, settling on a four-storey, 150-year-old building in Light Square which they purchased and have named Light.

After its original use as a tobacco store in the 1800s, Mr Dunstone said the building had been used for a variety of purposes, from the headquarters for Chapman’s Smallgoods, to brothels, night clubs and even the infamous topless restaurant Cobbs.

“The eclectic history is fantastic and that history in the walls is what drives the character or artistry and creativity,” he said.

Big names behind restaurant

Light is not just a performance venue, however, offering bars, an outdoor eating area and a cafe in the adjacent Mission Hall building.

Finishing touches are also being applied to a “top-tier” restaurant called Aurora that will open Wednesday next week, led by former head chef at the d’Arenberg Cube restaurant, Brendon Wessels.

“TV presenter and executive chef Simon Bryant has led the philosophy behind the restaurant and will head its training programs,” Mr Dunstone said.

MLRN X RKN perform in front of the LED wall before the opening weekend crowd.(Supplied: Jack Fenby)

Mr Dunstone said he wanted to provide an opportunity for young employees to learn from the best.

A cocktail bar is also being built upstairs along with a larger scale immersive venue on the first floor.

“Light will have a large footprint because it’s designed to be a hub, a home for hospitality and arts and effective creativity.”

Local musician and composer Adam Page makes full use of the visual effects.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton)

A self-funded hub

A registered, charitable organisation, the money raised by Light is to be returned to the arts and production industry in SA with the object of avoiding the constraints of public funding.

While the Dunstones had so far spent $10 million, Nick said he hoped more philanthropists would step up to contribute to a project that was ultimately forecast to cost in excess of $20 million.

“We can have multiple shows on in a day, sparse spaces being used 18 hours a day for a bunch of different uses, including corporate.

“So by increasing the utilisation of capital, we have a degree of capital to create a perpetually self-funding arts creativity home that will look after itself.”