Western Sydney arts figures fear NSW government will tell them to ‘get stuffed’ over funding

The chief executive of Penrith Performing & Visual Arts, Hania Radvan: “[T]here is the chance that we will always be a poorly resourced second cousin.” Photo: Wolter PeetersWestern Sydney will revolt if arts facilities are not improved, government warnedNSW government told ‘We don’t want hollow promises or shiny white elephants’ by western Sydney arts leader

The NSW government has been warned against spending more money on inner-city cultural facilities at the expense of arts centres in western Sydney.

The chairman of the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue, Christopher Brown, said the imbalance in arts funding between the CBD and western Sydney had to be addressed.

“Anyone who preaches business as usual is saying to western Sydney, effectively, ‘Get stuffed’,” he said.

Brown’s comments come as the NSW government considers whether to contribute funds towards a proposed $30 million upgrade of Campbelltown Arts Centre submitted more than six months ago.

The redevelopment includes a new 318-seat theatre, artist studios and rehearsal spaces, and renovating the front entrance.

The centre’s director Michael Dagostino said: “Campbelltown Arts Centre is very restricted in the works we commission and our capacity to present and exhibit these works.

“This is due the theatre having no back of house, no rehearsal space and poor staging.”

Dagostino said he did not want to create an “us versus them” battle with CBD cultural institutions for funding.

“All we ask for is to be able to compete for the remaining funds and that approximately $200 million … be allocated to the culture infrastructure in western Sydney,” he said.

The NSW government has promised to spend $600 million on cultural infrastructure. The bulk of the funds have been committed to two Sydney CBD projects – renovating the Sydney Opera House ($202 million) and redeveloping Walsh Bay ($139 million).

The government’s 2014 State Infrastructure Strategy also included a commitment to “engage with Western Sydney councils, particularly in Liverpool, Penrith and Campbelltown, to identify co-investment proposals for cultural infrastructure”.

Deputy Premier and Arts Minister Troy Grant said the government had “put our money where our mouth is with $30 million over four years to grow the sector”.

However, he said: “Local government has primary responsibility for providing local cultural infrastructure.”

The western Sydney director of the Sydney Business Chamber, David Borger, said: “Clearly, the government’s own plan is to support culture in western Sydney.”

Relocating the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta was an important aspect of this commitment, he said. “But we also need to see commitments in places like Penrith, Liverpool and Campbelltown.”

The Campbelltown Arts Centre upgrade was one of a number of cultural infrastructure projects identified in the DeloitteBuilding Western Sydney’s Cultural Arts Economy report.

A $15 million to $20 million upgrade of the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in Penrith is also proposed, which includes technical upgrades, new performance and rehearsal spaces and a new restaurant.

The chief executive of Penrith Performing and Visual Arts, Hania Radvan, said she was hoping to secure funding from the $600 million cultural infrastructure program.

She said it was unfair to expect local government in western Sydney to shoulder alone the cost of arts centres: “While CBD-based programs and infrastructure get direct support from the state government and those in the west don’t, there is the chance that we will always be a poorly resourced second cousin.”

The NSW Premier’s western Sydney cultural ambassador, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, said there was a strong economic argument for investing in cultural facilities in Penrith, Liverpool and Campbelltown.

“They serve large communities which deserve good arts facilities as well as other services,” said Macgregor, who is also director of the Museum of Contemporary Art.

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