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  • Jul 15, 2020

Bailouts for Sydney Arts Space Carriageworks

Image of Carriageworks

On July 10, the New South Wales (NSW) government announced a ten-year lease agreement and a five-year government funding guarantee for Sydney’s financially struggling multi-arts center Carriageworks, backing previously pledged funding from Australian philanthropic foundations. The institution went into voluntary administration in May.

The new lease, introduced by NSW art minister Don Harwin, provides more longterm stability for the center compared to the previous lease, which was in place since 2018. The older agreement entailed monthly arrangements with Create NSW, the government’s arts policy and funding branch. The new lease also carries the possibility of a further ten-year extension upon expiry. 

While the amount of government funding remains unclear at the moment, support pledged by the group of philanthropic foundations totals AUD 2.94 million (USD 2.06 million) in grants and loans to Carriageworks over five years, on the condition that it remains independent. According to the firm KPMG, who is acting as administrator, an annual funding of AUD 2.5 million (USD 1.7 million) is needed for the institution to avoid liquidation, as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald

The network of philanthropic foundations, led by the Neilson Foundation, joined in support for Carriageworks following reports in early May suggesting that the NSW government might take over operations under Sydney Opera House management. This was met with disapproval from both industry professionals and the public, with some saying that the move could shift the focus of Carriageworks away from smaller artistic communities, in addition to critiques of government arts funding and management. The other members who have so far promised support include the Gonski family foundation, the Packer Family Foundation, the Crown Resorts Foundation, and the Oranges & Sardines Foundation—co-directed by Carriageworks board director Geoff Ainsworth. 

Covid-19 induced lockdowns dealt a heavy blow to Carriageworks, which already  sustained a budget deficit of AUD 524,000 (USD 363,600) in 2019. With the cancellation of major commercial events like the Sydney Writers’ Festival in 2020, the organization, which primarily depends on live events for revenue, currently owes over AUD 2 million (USD 1.39 million) to creditors. 

The bailout is the latest of several attempts to revive Australian arts institutions and the wider industry, battered by the pandemic in addition to federal funding cuts for arts organizations in April. On May 1, Adelaide’s Art Gallery of South Australia, in tandem with the James and Diana Ramsay Foundation and the Neilson Foundation, announced bursary offers to artists, collectives, and art centers. Earlier in July, Sydney saw an eleventh-hour decision to preserve the current location of its Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, previously slated for closure to fund the museum’s new venue being built in Parramatta. 

Carriageworks has served as an arts and culture precinct with a focus on contemporary and performing arts since 2007. The former railway complex stages the annual Sydney Contemporary, Australia’s largest international art fair, and has been a main exhibition site for the Biennale of Sydney since 2012.

Fion Tse is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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