Wollongong cultural plan hits snag

The town hall's basement could be used by artists.
The town hall's basement could be used by artists.

Wollongong's long-awaited cultural plan passed the council last Monday but has hit another snag, with a rescission motion set to render the document impotent.

The council narrowly passed a motion supporting the plan and calling for discussion on funding sources.

On Thursday, Cr Greg Petty confirmed to the Mercury that a rescission motion would be lodged disputing the funding, which would leave the plan without financial backing.

"I was thinking about putting in a rescission myself, but I was told one had already been put in," Cr Petty said.

"This is about corporate governance. This should sit as an approved document, and when funding becomes available, we implement it."

The cultural plan included a ideas to enliven the CBD, including an arts hub in the basement of the town hall, more support for musicians, and giving artists space in disused industrial buildings.

A resolution passed with the plan last Monday called for information on "finding available funding sources for a new community cultural grants and commissions budget", proposing $150,000 funding a year for three years.

Cr Petty said he was not against the plan in principle, but it gave little consideration to logistics.

"It is abundantly clear the process never considered money," he said.

"We are excellent at consulting, but short on implementation."

Cr Ann Martin, the driving force behind the cultural plan, was shocked by the rescission motion.

"The motion was just asking for conversations about whether the funds were available. To head things off before that conversation is extraordinary," she said.

Cr Martin called the council "schizophrenic" in its stance on the arts.

"Council wants us to be seen as a creative city, but here we have a chance to do more and we are saying no to it," she said.

"We are schizophrenic in our thinking. Sometimes you need to take a leap of faith. It is as much about culture change in council as about change in the region in general."

Cr Petty said the motion would come up at the May 26 meeting.

Curran suggests funding opportunities

Councillor Vicky Curran believes turning to the community may be the key to ensure the cultural plan does not get forgotten.

With a rescission motion to bring the plan’s funding into doubt, councillors are thinking of ways to fund the ideas.

Cr Curran said consortiums behind new residential and commercial developments could be convinced to include resources for creatives in their new buildings, as a community benefit to offset the impacts of development.

“A great example would be the development on Flinders Street [Bass and Flinders Gateway]. They want to go higher than we would normally allow, so there are opportunities for discussions with the cultural and planning team,” she said.

Cr Curran said new developments could include artists’ spaces, or a home for a community radio station.

Cr Ann Martin said another answer could be to have a dedicated council officer to seek opportunities for parts of the cultural plan to be woven into existing council projects, thus reducing costs.

“When I worked as a cultural planner at Leichhardt council, we had little budget but other departments opened their budget to us to let us do cultural work with them,” she said.

Cr Curran said the dedicated officer could be a liaison between developers and the creative community.

“I believe strongly in place management, someone driving and ensuring the plan happens and that staff are aware of it across all council.

“We need measures to make sure the cultural plan doesn’t sit on the bookshelf.”