A decision by the state government to relocate the Powerhouse Museum from the Sydney CBD to Parramatta is provoking controversy. There are those who say that Australia’s only Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences should remain on its present Darling Harbour site, where it is easily accessible. One commentator, who was involved in the establishment of the museum at Darling Harbour, describes Parramatta as being on the periphery of Sydney. In fact Parramatta is now recognised as the geographic and demographic centre of Sydney. People in the east still fail to understand the size and characteristics of Sydney’s western region. At its most expansive, the region encompasses 14 local government areas and almost 9,000 square kilometres. Outlined in black in the map above are the 14 local government areas, with the shaded area to the east (right), the rest of Sydney. It is reproduced with permission of WESTIR in my book, Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney.
Specious comments from Sydneysiders resisting the move include that people from western Sydney prefer coming to the CBD for the total experience of an outing. Others claim that people from the west are not interested anyway as attendance figures attest, they don’t want to pay and they have other priorities. A report released shortly before the state election debunks these myths. You only have to look at the map to realise that distance, and therefore travel cost, are the major issues preventing access to Sydney CBD from the west. The Deloitte report was jointly commissioned by the Sydney Business Chamber – Western Sydney and the regional river cities of Parramatta, Penrith and Liverpool, with statistical input from other councils, including Blacktown and Campbelltown. Right, Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre (The Joan), Penrith – photo, Penrith Council.
Instead of arguing for social equity in funding, the Deloitte report Building Western Sydney’s Cultural Arts Economy – a key to Sydney’s success argues that greater investment in cultural arts in western Sydney creates opportunities for the government to deliver jobs, investment and social outcomes for the region. The executive summary highlights the grossly inequitable funding to cultural arts in western Sydney, which was first highlighted in 1985 in a report by Fairfield Council. The Deloitte report states, “Today western Sydney represents 1 in 10 Australians yet attracts only 1% of Commonwealth arts program funding, and 5.5% of the state’s cultural arts, heritage and events funding” – despite having 30% of NSW’s population. It defines the first factor driving demand for cultural arts in western Sydney as the region’s population.
“In 2011 western Sydney’s population was 2.03 million, compared to 2.3 million for eastern Sydney. By 2031 western Sydney’s population will reach 2.9 million, overtaking eastern Sydney’s.” The report discusses culture exclusively in terms of venues and events, but says “the arts however play a unique and central role in cultures development and expression.” Other factors are the gradual transformation of the population to white collar occupations, tertiary educated and a surplus of high value, creative and cultural workers. It states that the cultural and creative economy is a significant contributor to Australia’s economy – contributing a similar gross value as health care and social assistance. Above left, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre – photo Liverpool Council.
The report argues that additional government investment in western Sydney cultural arts venues and events would provide far greater return on investment than other options. Current urban renewal programs in its identified regional cities provide an opportunity for governments to leverage other economic advantages. It cites international examples of such leverage in successful cultural arts precincts in Newark, New Jersey, Brooklyn in New York and Shanghai in China. It notes that NSW’s overall attendance at cultural venues and events is the lowest in Australia and suggests that cultural arts development in western Sydney is already driving attendance growth in NSW.
Recommendations in the report include a commitment of $300 million infrastructure funding over five years to 2020, doubled program funding, relocation of the Powerhouse Museum to western Sydney, the development of a western Sydney cultural arts advisory group, greater coordination between western Sydney councils and “That the state government develops a long term western Sydney cultural arts infrastructure and industry development strategy.” Above, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta – photo Arts NSW.
Among other recommendations are that the Australian Film, Television School and Radio School, along with the National Art School be relocated to the region and that the University of Western Sydney develops new programs to deliver vital tertiary training. Since the closure of UWS Theatre Nepean in 2006, the tertiary education pathways for the cultural and creative arts have been severely constrained.
Right now, there is an example of a talented and well organised group in the Penrith area facing closure as a result of inadequate funding and resources. Emu Heights Theatre Company is a professional theatre company that has operated successfully for five years. Co-founded by Michele and Ian Zammit, the company’s first production was The Shoe-Horn Sonata by John Misto, the story of two women who were prisoners of war of the Japanese, who meet again 50 years later. It is the production which is now ending the present incarnation of the company and is timely for the 100 year commemoration of the ANZAC landing and the outbreak of the World War I. It is also a fine production, gently nuanced, humorous and deeply moving.
In the five years, EHTC has presented seven productions at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, and three sets of Shakespeare seminars taken to schools around western Sydney. It has worked with scores of talented professional artists and engaged the interest of more than 5000 students and their teachers. Public audiences have been growing. The company believes “that theatre is a means for connection and force for change, and Penrith deserves its own theatre company to share these stories with its community. There is also a sense of frustration: we want to continue! We have learned after five years the ins and outs of what it takes to run an independent theatre company, and we now understand we do not have the funds, resource, nor the personnel and business expertise to do so.” Above, at The Joan, artistic director Ian Zammit with his two leading ladies from The Shoe-Horn Sonata, Annette Emerton, left, and Diana Jeffrey.
Give yourself the pleasure of attending the show before it finishes on May 2 and expand your appreciation of the story by participating in a Q&A session with actors and director at the end of each performance. Click here for bookings. You also have the opportunity to be part of creating a new vision and future for the company. Contact Ian Zammit.