Arts urged to embrace new venue

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
The new Heart venue opens next month.
Camera IconThe new Heart venue opens next month.

Council chiefs have urged the arts community to embrace the soon-to-be-opened Heart venue, which they say will allow more events, activities, and functions than ever before.

Speaking with the Times this week, Shire of Augusta-Margaret River president Pam Townshend, deputy Julia Meldrum, and chief executive Stephanie Addison-Brown said last week’s decision to oust Arts Margaret River from its previous role managing the cultural centre should not have come as a surprise to anyone.

They said council decisions dating back several years — before either councillor was elected — showed the new venue would be a “more complex offering” with greater management requirements.

During debate last week, councillors noted their hands were tied in the decision, and established a competitive $150,000 Community Culture and Arts Development Fund for groups running events at the venue, which would now be managed directly by the Shire.

“We have been in close contact with Arts Margaret River throughout the whole process,” Cr Townshend said.

“They understand the drivers to activate that project. They still have enormous opportunity to be in there because we are kindly disposed towards Arts Margaret River.”

Ms Addison-Brown said claims from the arts community the Shire would struggle to attract events funding were incorrect, noting an overhaul in funding processes at WA’s Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, as well as other programs open to the Shire.

She said one of the first options was the Art Gallery of WA’s roadshow program which could exhibit some of the State’s best artworks in Margaret River. The Heart includes exhibition space, two performance venues, cinema space, room for local artisans, a commercial kitchen and bar, and business facilities.

“It’s a vibrant centre,” Ms Addison-Brown said. “The operation of the Heart is different from the cultural centre because there’s a lot of other options in there. It’s not like for like.”

Arts Margaret River members were distressed at last week’s management decision, which could see paid staff at the arts group losing their jobs or work hours.

But Cr Townshend hoped volunteers would get involved in the Heart, with many events running free ticket programs in exchange for small roles.

She stressed there were also options for the arts community to get involved in the new Heart reference group reporting to the Shire.

“(Arts Margaret River will) have to do less of the operations day-to-day such as cleaning,” Cr Townshend said. “And they can concentrate on the program that have grants for. I’d think that would be a good outcome for them.”

Shire employees will include at least one dedicated technician who would work with all community groups.

Schools, festivals, community groups, and Arts Margaret River could apply for a share of the $150,000 fund.

Last year’s Shire subsidy to Arts Margaret River was at least $240,000.

The cost for the Shire to manage the venue remained unknown, with a forecast of $1.151 million this financial year, which involved set-up costs.

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