The University of New South Wales (UNSW) has paid tribute to renowned Indigenous shell artist and Bidjigal community elder Esme Timbery by naming their brand new theatre precinct after her.

The new theatre and performance venue, formerly known as the D8 Theatres, will henceforth be called the Esme Timbery Creative Practice Lab.

When ‘The Esme’ officially opens on 4 November, it will be the first building on the university’s Kensington campus named after an Indigenous woman.

“There is no one who deserves this recognition more than Aunty Esme who has dedicated her life to maintaining customary practices and traditions of shellworking among the Bidjigal people and La Perouse communities for the benefit and enjoyment of everyone,” says head of the School of the Arts and Media, professor Michael Balfour.

“We are honoured to celebrate an important Indigenous elder and artist whose work represents an enduring connection to the land on which UNSW and this new building stand.”

Part of the Timbery family of the La Perouse area and Coastal Sydney, Timbery comes from a long line of shell workers; the work of her great-grandmother, Queen Emma Timbery was exhibited in London in 1910.

In addition to being acquired by major Australian art galleries and museums and decorating high end platform shoes, Timbery’s shellwork features on the program for the 21st Biennale of Sydney and was selected as the first public art project on Sydney’s $9 billion Barangaroo project. She was also the inaugural winner of the Parliament of New South Wales Indigenous Art Prize for two shelled Harbour Bridges.

“I hope that having my name displayed publicly on this building will inspire our young people to follow their dreams at University, particularly in the arts for years to come,” Timbery says.

Managed by the Creative Practice Lab (CPL) at UNSW’s School of the Arts and Media, the Esme houses the Io Myers Studio and Studio One. The CPL is a specialised multi-arts production unit that supports teaching and practice-led research across a diverse range of disciplines including theatre and performance, film, media, creative writing and music.

Each year, the CPL supports over 50 projects resulting in 70 presentations and performances that are open to the public.

CPL producer and manager Su Goldfish says, “This new complex brings together the much loved venues, Io Myers Studio and Studio One under one roof, highlighting the commitment UNSW has made to teaching and research in the creative arts, as well as adding a significant piece of arts infrastructure on to the Kensington campus and into our city.”

The Esme represents the final stage of the $220m multidisciplinary Science and Engineering Building development, which integrates spaces for the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM) disciplines in one facility.