Costs rip art out of the Heart

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Margaret River Theatre Group productions like Beauty and the Beast involved dozens of local young performers.
Camera IconMargaret River Theatre Group productions like Beauty and the Beast involved dozens of local young performers. Credit: Soul Photography

One of the region’s longest- running volunteer arts groups says it will look to host future performances in smaller local venues because of unaffordable hire costs at the Margaret River Heart.

Margaret River Theatre Group president Jaime Werren said the arts community was all behind the redevelopment of Margaret River’s ageing Cultural Centre, but few had seen the steep rise in costs coming.

The theatre group was a Cultural Centre mainstay with one-act plays, comedies, and pantomimes, but after its February production of Beauty and the Beast, the bill for use of the centre — which now involves professional technicians and marketers — means future performances there are unlikely without a significant boost in community arts funding.

“It was a bit of a shock when we received the bill,” Ms Werren said.

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“It’s a bit heartbreaking for us.

“But it (the Heart) has been built focused on more of the corporate side of things.

“We really need a community theatre and the Heart is just beyond our costs.”

A recent Shire of Augusta- Margaret River update on the Heart said some community groups had pushed back against the pricing, while staff wages made it unfeasible to open on weekends except for major events.

Staff numbers had grown beyond the initial scope for the venue, which still lacked a business plan, and was forecast to cost ratepayers about $1.7 million to run this financial year. The Heart update also flagged a possible increase in arts funding to help community groups access the venue, which Ms Werren said MRTG would welcome.

“It’s a great venue and we’d love to use it,” she said.

But legal and logistical requirements, including detailed grant applications for the Shire’s performing arts fund, were an added burden on volunteers.

Several artists and exhibitors contacted by the Times declined to comment to avoid jeopardising funding requests.

Heart general manager Nicky Hansen declined to comment on plans to increase ratepayer- backed arts funding, but said managers were keen to work with local event organisers “and provide as much support as possible”. “Where community groups indicate they are not able to pay estimated costs, there are options for support, including the Margaret River Heart grants program, a reduction of fees by application, and working in partnership with the Heart to meet community goals,” Ms Hansen said.

A $150,000 budget for grants was set for 2020-21, with COVID-19 affecting the first 20 applications planned prior to the shutdown.

“In a normal event year, without a pandemic, there is an appetite for up to $150,000 in funding from community organisations to run both large-scale annual events that attract visitation to the region, as well as smaller community events and exhibitions,” Ms Hansen said.

South West Shorts and CinefestOz will use the Heart in August.

Ms Werren said MRTG would investigate other venues, noting upgrades to Cowaramup Hall, which it has used for previous performances, had also increased in cost.

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