Museum misses out on Art in the Heart

Richmond River Historical Society secretary Geoff Foley (left) and president Bernie Childs outside the old council chambers in Molesworth Street, where the Lismore Regional Museum lives. Council voted on Tuesday night not to include the museum in the Art in the Heart cultural precinct.

Richmond River Historical Society (RRHS) secretary Geoff Foley said he is very disappointed after Lismore City Council voted on Tuesday night not to include the Lismore Regional Museum in the Art in the Heart cultural precinct.

The building being proposed for the old Lismore High School site was going to be four storeys high, with the Lismore Regional Museum occupying the third floor. However, despite the Lismore Regional Gallery and Councils own Arts and Cultural Policy Advisory Group supporting the inclusion of the museum, councillors decided the added cost (around $4 million for the fourth floor plus $346,000 annual operating costs) made it prohibitive.

RRHS member and former Australian War Memorial manager, Robbie Braithwaite, gave an impassioned address at Council on Tuesday night, saying excluding the museum was short-sighted. She explained that the RRHS had spent the last six months working with Council on a memorandum of understanding for co-location with the art gallery and said, forgive us for feeling we have been sold down the river.

Robbie said Lismore has a proud history with many extraordinary people born in the local area among them Errol Flynns father Professor Theodore Flynn (the first Professor of Biology at the University of Tasmania), Victoria Cross recipient Private Paddy Bugden, Olympic swimmer Petria Thomas and nationally-acclaimed artist Margaret Olley. She said their stories deserved to be showcased as an integral part of the Art in the Heart development.

Lismore people need to know these stories, tourists want to know these stories , and the perfect way to tell them is through a worthy regional museum, Robbie said. You may think we already have one but we dont what we have is a small museum entirely built up by dedicated volunteers over 70 years of collecting... housed on the top floor of a beautiful building not built as a museum, which has difficult access, inadequate storage space, inadequate working and display spaces, and poor environmental conditions. I urge you to support this.

Cr Jenny Dowell argued for the museums inclusion, saying the $346,000 operating budget could be offset by leasing the old council chambers in Molesworth Street (the museums current home) to a commercial business. Robbie also outlined that co-location with the gallery would allow air-conditioning costs, administrative staff and volunteers to be shared.

This is an opportunity to be bold and visionary, said Cr Dowell. This could be the best and most iconic building Lismore has ever seen, and we will find the money. I urge you to support this.

Instead, Council chose to allocate $6 million from its capital works program for the $12 million project, with the remainder to be sourced from external funding. While designs are still only in a conceptual stage, it is envisaged the three storey building will include a Peoples Gallery, a Southern Cross University gallery, the new Lismore Regional Gallery, a kids gallery, coffee shop, meeting spaces, offices and possibly other retail outlets.

Council resolved the ground floor would also include a Regional Museum Exhibition Area but at this stage it is unclear how this would operate and what would be included from the RRHS collection. Council subsequently decided to do a strategic review of the old council chambers and look at providing additional ground floor space, an internal lift, and air-conditioning.

The cultural precinct is impacted by the almighty dollar and we cant get away from that the decision is a product of the funds available. Thats the harsh reality, said Councils general manager, Paul OSullivan. Whilst were prepared to put ratepayers funds into this, there are limits to how much can be spent. There is absolute recognition by the Council that it does need to actively support the historical society and museum, and Council will provide funds to improve their existing building. There are affordable things we can do there to improve things significantly.

However, Geoff Foley wasnt convinced.

Its a failure of vision and goes against Councils own Cultural Plan 2004-2009, which provided that a regional museum should be included in the cultural precinct, said Geoff. Weve been told by Council its too much money but weve also been told if Council had the will they could find the money from somewhere. There are so many things wrong with the building were in its an office block, not a museum and to gut it youd probably have a public outcry that its inappropriate to do that to a heritage building. And even if we had the entire building, we would still be short of space.

In the new year councillors will meet with Michael Goss from the NSW Ministry of Arts, as well as politicians and representatives from other funding bodies, to discuss avenues of attracting funding.

Councillors believe with both state and federal elections looming, now is the time to lobby politicians for the funding needed to get Art in the Heart off the ground.

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