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  • May 07, 2020

Curtains Down for Sydney Arts Space

The New South Wales government is scrambling to aid Carriageworks, which has gone into voluntary administration as a result of financial difficulties exacerbated by Covid-19. Image of Carriageworks’ exterior via the venue’s Facebook page.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the closure of Sydney’s leading multidisciplinary arts space. In a surprise announcement on May 5, the board of Carriageworks revealed that the organization had gone into voluntary administration. Opened in 2007 in the Redfern district, the former railway complex has hosted a variety of contemporary art installations, performing arts events, and cultural festivals, serving as the venue for Australia’s largest international art fair, Sydney Contemporary, as well as one of the main sites for the Biennale of Sydney since its 2012 edition. 

Carriageworks’ demise is the first major institutional casualty of the coronavirus, but its problems stem also from the conservative Australian government’s aggressive austerity agenda and efforts to privatize cultural funding. The organization raises 75 percent of its revenue independently of government funding, primarily through its on-site events. In its announcement Carriageworks noted: “The sudden cancellation or postponement of six months of activities due to restrictions on public gatherings has resulted in an irreparable loss of income.” Upcoming events had included the Sydney Writers’ Festival (one of the events recently defunded by the Australia Council for the Arts), the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, and the design event Semi-Permanent as part of the VIVID Sydney festival. Carriageworks CEO Blair French noted that the venue attracts more than one million visitors annually; the farmers market alone is attended by over 5,000 people every Saturday. 

Carriageworks has gone into voluntary administration under the firm KPMG, which announced that it will try to stabilize Carriageworks’ financial condition before considering its options for the future. ABC News reported that the New South Wales regional government is attempting to recruit the Sydney Opera House to aid Carriageworks. Sydney mayor Clover Moore, writing in The Sydney Morning Herald on May 6, called for the state government to reconsider spending AUD 1.5 billion (USD 960 million) on relocating the Powerhouse Museum and instead divert the budgeted funds to Carriageworks and other struggling organizations. Bemoaning how Australia Council funding has declined nearly 20 percent since the conservative government took power in 2013, Moore noted the centrality of the arts to Australia’s largest city in terms of the tourist economy, as well as the city’s liveliness and well-being. 

HG Masters is the deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific

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