History & About

The Realisation of a Dream

From its modest beginnings, it now has classes in painting, drawing, ceramics, life drawing, printmaking, jewellery, botanical art, sculpture and children’s art. Over 30 professional exhibiting artists teach and join students in exhibitions in the Ewart Gallery.

The founder, Joy Ewart (born 1916), was a teacher and artist, and after she made two trips overseas in 1949 and in 1959 as a Fulbright scholar, was inspired by what she experienced to start an arts centre in Sydney, embracing all the visual arts. In 1955 she opened a painting studio in Chatswood, where her love for encouraging creativity was realised with practical art classes for adults, adolescents and children. On her return to Australia in 1960, after researching graphic arts overseas, she set up presses for lithography and etching in her Chatswood studio, making it the only open access studio for printmakers in Sydney.

The concept of a centre embracing all the visual arts was adopted by fellow artists, students and friends, and a committee was formed on 5 June 1961 – the North Shore Workshop Arts Centre, (known as Workshop Arts Centre from 1965 to 2020), with Joy Ewart as Honorary Art Director. Membership subscriptions were accepted and fund-raising began. By 1962 the donations of one hundred members helped with both rent and studio costs. A disused furrier’s warehouse at 33 Laurel Street was chosen as suitable premises in 1963 and has remained the home of the Willoughby Arts Centre ever since.

The lease was signed, and after much cleaning and some structural alterations, classes began in painting, then sculpture and pottery. A lithography press was transferred from Joy Ewart’s old studio and used to set up the first fine printmaking workshop in New South Wales. An appeal to members and students made it possible to buy the building with the aid of a bank loan, thus ensuring the future of the Centre.

Sadly Joy Ewart, whose health had not been good throughout her life, died on 4 July 1964, aged 47. She had laboured ceaselessly to release the creative spirit dormant in everyone, bringing back community arts into public consciousness in a powerful and exciting way.

The Willoughby Arts Centre was a model for many new arts centres in the 1970’s, although it is different from many other art centres in that it is a self-funded institution. We aim to incorporate teaching in all art forms, develop critical awareness of formal aesthetic values and develop technical ability – all as a foundation for the expression of ideas.

Joy chose as the Centre’s motto, Voltaire’s statement, “All arts are brothers, each a light unto the other”.

In late 2020, we adopted our new name Willoughby Arts Centre. Today the Centre is a living, growing testimonial to the indomitable spirit and inspiration of a frail woman who had the rare gift of being able to pass on an original vision to others, so that they may share the joy known to those who create.

Willoughby’s Best Kept Secret

The Willoughby Arts Centre is a thriving arts hub and community-driven resource. It supports artists and helps people of all ages participate in the arts, raising the profile of Willoughby and all the area has to offer. Around 60 weekly, lively art classes are led by 30 highly qualified teaching artists in professionally equipped workshop studios, complemented by the Ewart Gallery’s stimulating exhibition program.


Affordable courses are offered throughout the year for adults, teenagers and children, from beginners to advanced standard in term format and shorter courses in school holidays. Students can receive hands-on, practical tuition in painting, drawing, ceramics, printmaking, jewellery or sculpture.

The high standards attained by students and the prizes many have gone on to win in Australian and international competitions are testament to the quality of tuition. You could follow in the footsteps of the Centre’s alumni including John Coburn, John Firth-Smith, James Gleeson, Frank Hodgkinson, Kerrie Lester, Guy Maestri, Lloyd Rees and Wendy Sharpe.

The accomplished tutors have many years experience as practicing and exhibiting artists and teachers, encouraging and developing contemporary and challenging work. Workshops and master classes are also offered by visiting professional artists.


The Centre provides great prizes for budding artists through:

  • the Joy Ewart Scholarship for Year 10 students, and
  • the Ewart Art Prize for works by Centre members.


The Ewart Gallery provides opportunities for members, students and children to display their work as part of an energetic program which includes specially curated exhibitions and other displays by outside hirers.


The Willoughby Arts Centre was established in 1961 by the late Joy Ewart with the support of fellow local artists and community members. It was their dream to promote and foster appreciation of the creative and visual arts and her legacy and their vision live on.


It may come as a surprise that the Willoughby Arts Centre is self supporting, independent of local government, the State or the Commonwealth.

As a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee it relies on the generous support of the community through annual membership subscriptions, student fees, studio hire fees, gallery hire and sales. Donations may be made through the Centre’s tax deductible Development Fund on the Register of Cultural Organisations.

Generous sponsorship and in-kind support comes from the business sector including many local business and the Centre is always looking for new partnership opportunities. The Centre’s lively atmosphere peaks with its various fundraising functions, gallery openings and the Art Fair Market Day each October.

The Willoughby Arts Centre Development Fund is a tax deductible fund listed on the Register of Cultural Organisations under subdivision 30-B of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997. All donations of $2.00 or more to the Willoughby Arts Centre Development Fund are tax deductible.

Is there a membership requirement?

Membership is available to all and is separate from student enrolment into a class. Becoming a member of the Willoughby Arts Centre entitles you to many benefits.

Can I be sure of receiving quality teaching?

The teaching artists at the Willoughby Arts Centre are highly qualified (usually Masters in Fine Arts) with many years of teaching experience and as practicing artists and exhibitors. Visiting artist’s workshops and master classes are also held throughout the year, offering intensive weekend or longer workshops in specific areas of expertise. The Willoughby Arts Centre prides itself in continual growth. The WAC offers a creative community in which established and emerging artists can support, inspire and challenge one another.

The high standards attained by students in art prizes in Australia and international competition is testament to the quality of tuition at the WAC.

Can I exhibit?

The Ewart Gallery was named in honour of the Willoughby Art Centre’s founding member, the late Joy Ewart. The exhibition program includes works of visiting artists, members, students and teachers, some of whom are represented in prestigious collections both in Australia and overseas. The exhibitions committee welcomes exhibition proposals from individuals and groups of artists to contribute to a diverse program across a range of disciplines.