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Sydney’s Carriageworks. Photo: Toby Burrows, Wikimedia Commons.
Sydney’s Carriageworks. Photo: Toby Burrows, Wikimedia Commons.

Opera House Takeover Being Considered for Sydney’s Struggling Carriageworks

Sydney’s major multidisciplinary arts center Carriageworks announced on Monday that it is financially insolvent and will go into voluntary administration as a result of an “irreparable loss of income.” A spokesperson for the venue said the center generates three quarters of its revenue through on-site programming, most of which has been canceled or postponed due to Covid-19—including the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, and other major ticket events. The Sydney Opera House has since been approached to assist with consulting for the financial future of Carriageworks and is poised to take over the arts space.

Carriageworks’s chief executive Blair French, who was appointed last May, said all of the venue’s contract workers as well as half of its permanent staff have been let go. “[We] asked those remaining to move to a three-day week,” French told The Guardian. “Focusing on essential work only, we have been striving to find a way through the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown. . . . With restrictions on social gatherings likely to remain in place for some time to come, the board determined that it had no alternative but to place the company into voluntary administration.” He added that he was hopeful the institution would reopen when lockdown measures are eased.

Despite widespread demands for the government to bail out the arts institution, New South Wales has refused to guarantee future funding. Its arts minister, Don Harwin, also resigned in April after he was issued a minor fine for violating the country’s public health orders by moving to a second home in Pearl Beach, about an hour’s drive from his Sydney residence.

With all galleries in Australia currently closed and with no immediate plans for reopening, the cultural sector is suffering. The Australia Council had already slashed funding prior to the pandemic, impacting a wide range of gallery operations. Esther Anatolitis, executive director of the National Association of Visual Arts, said: “What we’re seeing right across Australia is a total loss of self-generated income for galleries. As yet, there’s no strategy looking at how to financially support galleries so that they will be able to survive and reopen. . . . We need the $111.7 billion creative industries to be recognized as the massive economic driver Australia cannot afford to lose,” she added, “and that means targeted stimulus now.”

While the government has issued subsidies to certain organizations, including Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), as part of its “Jobkeeper Scheme,” local councils and university or state-owned institutions such as the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) in Adelaide are not eligible. MCA director Liz Ann Macgregor called the scheme a “lifeline.” “I can’t even begin to tell you of the scenarios we were working through before Jobkeeper was announced. All I can say is that they were truly horrible.”