The local arts community has welcomed the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River’s decision to bring Arts Margaret River back into the fold. After several years in the wilderness having been ousted from its cultural centre base to make way for its redevelopment into the Margaret River Heart — a project the arts group championed, under previous leadership, despite the move triggering its own downgrade — a transition plan is in place with a November deadline. A range of community groups told the Times they were relieved at the change, which they believed would address most of the concerns outlined in a harsh consultants’ report. The consultants reported the Heart failed to follow national industry benchmarks, didn’t offer good value for money, and caused widespread angst in the arts community for its grants program, cost to hire, and alienating users. In a Shire statement, Arts Margaret River president David Shelton lauded the switch. “Arts Margaret River has a proud history of almost 50 years in supporting and fostering the arts in our community, for our community, and we welcome the opportunity to be at the centre of a reinvigorated Heart,” Mr Shelton said. General manager Michelle Wright talked up report findings the community wanted to see the Heart pumping. “We are excited by the opportunity to work alongside the Shire to make the venue a fully utilised community space that can be accessible to everyone,” she said. “To be able to utilise the Margaret River Heart as a permanent space means that we no longer need to find alternative venues for our events and can focus on our key purpose of supporting, presenting and creating artistic programs for our community.” Critic Ian Parmenter, a food broadcaster and former director of Tasting Australia, said it was “not often” ratepayers got good news from the council. “It has taken years, but at last sanity prevails, and Arts Margaret River will be taking control of its programming,” he said. “Michelle Wright and her team are well equipped to run its activities. “Plus, it will lead to a return of the volunteers which this community resource has relied on in the past.” Ratepayers for other local government venues had reached out to Mr Parmenter with similar concerns after the Times’ first report last month. Volunteer numbers had dwindled since the Heart sought to recruit residents to help, after the previous management decision. In her media comments, Shire president Paula Cristoffanini urged residents to back the new model with bums on seats. “This new arrangement will see the Shire and Arts MR work together to build a stronger connection and easier access to the Heart to create a vibrant, community-owned and loved space providing arts, cultural and entertainment opportunities for a broad range of people, from community members and community groups to internationally acclaimed artists,” she said. Under the new deal, the Shire will retain the venue and fund production and technical services, with Arts Margaret River to deliver “a full and varied program of community-focused arts, theatre and cultural events, workshops and opportunities for regionally based conference and business events”. Mr Shelton moved permanently to the region in 2019 after terse council debates about the arts group managing the Heart. Mr Parmenter noted the Shire president and chief executive were not in their positions when decisions about Heart’s construction or management were made.