Wollongong gallery's lease subsidy 'necessary'

The Project Contemporary Artspace building at 255 Keira Street, Wollongong.
The Project Contemporary Artspace building at 255 Keira Street, Wollongong.

Wollongong City Council will subsidise the lease of a city art gallery by $87,000 over the next five years if councillors endorse a staff recommendation at next week's meeting.

In a report to councillors, staff have recommended a five-year lease of 255 Keira Street be granted to Project Contemporary Artspace. The recommended rent has been set by staff at $11,700 a year - or $225 a week - which staff said represented 40 per cent of the assessed market rent for that site.

This means the council would be forgoing $17,550 a year or $87,750 over the lease term.

This reduced rate "recognises the significant cultural value" of the artspace and would be "one of the council's contributions to building cultural infrastructure within the city," staff said.

Liberal councillor Leigh Colacino said he was happy with the rate subsidy, despite the council's recent decision to raise residential rates and service fees.

"It is fair for the community to ask why subsidise the gallery on the one hand and hit us on the other," he said.

"But this is a necessary thing, to give new and emerging artists opportunities to test the waters of being a professional, which is what this gallery does."

It would be "remiss" of the council not to offer this chance, given its strong commitment to the city's new cultural plan.

"The cultural plan recognises the need to have people presenting new contemporary pieces of art and test the waters - because some of these artists will get a community return and response and then become identities within the art world," he said.

"I have always argued for the arts as a cultural driver for our city, so for our cultural identity to be enhanced it might need some subsidy."

In 2012, Project Contemporary Artspace was granted a temporary 18-month lease over the space and told to come up with a financial plan, due to council concerns about its management.

Since then, staff said the gallery had "provided a vibrant, challenging and engaging exhibition program", improved its finances and demonstrated an ability to operate under a new lease.

The lease conditions require the gallery to pay for insurance, land rates, garbage charges, utilities and minor maintenance, and recognise the council's rent subsidy in publications and invitations.