Gallery goes ahead

The impassioned debate over the proposed Margaret Olley Arts Centre at Lismore City Council on Tuesday night included accusations of gagging, a councillor pouring his fan mail on the table, and another councillor showing his tech-saviness by reading out his Tweets on the subject.

Mayor Jenny Dowell used her casting vote to break the deadlock and defeat the rescission motion about engaging an architect lodged by Crs Graham Meineke, Neil Marks and Peter Graham. Cr Marks’ motion for a cost-benefit analysis and a survey was also lost on the Mayor’s casting vote with the same 5/5 split (Crs Marks, Meineke, Graham, David Yarnall, John Chant for; Crs Dowell, Ray Houston, Gianpiero Battista, Simon Clough, Isaac Smith against; Cr Vanessa Ekins absent).

Finally Council voted 8/2 (Crs Battista, Smith against) to nominate the MOAC for funding of $4.5 million from the federal government’s Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program, engage an architect for designs, to get a report outlining budgetting and for Council to make a commitment ensuring the gallery’s expenses do not cut into roads, building maintenance or other core programs.

Cr Meineke said the reason he had lodged a rescission motion was debate at the November meeting had been gagged on the decision to engage an architect.

“On Friday I had the pleasure of attending an art exhibition in Alstonville,” Cr Meineke said. “I was very disappointed to learn that the art exhibition was not coming to Lismore because the gallery is not up to scratch; we will miss out and it will go to Ballina. I am in favour of art galleries, just not in favour of [Lismore Council] spending $3 million.”

Cr Meineke said he had received 259 emails from community members and 95% were against. He suggested, instead of the MOAC, Council could display art in shopfronts or convert the former Council Chambers in Molesworth St.

Cr Battista said the Lismore community had a one-off chance to get $4.5m from the federal government.

“If I was Margaret Olley and heard people talking so badly about the gallery I would be so disappointed I would say, ‘don’t put my name on it’,” Cr Battista said. “You have divided the community once again, when we have the opportunity for a visionary look at the way this community wants to go.”

Cr Marks said people hadn’t been stopping him in the street about the gallery so he, Crs Meineke, Chant and Graham paid for an ad in The Northern Star, from which they received 264 responses, with only 15 in favour of a new gallery.

However Cr Smith said not only had he been stopped in the street many times, but people had been stridently in favour of the MOAC.

“Look up at the motto of Lismore; it says ‘he who does not progress, regresses’,” he said. “In Lismore we have lived under the burden of a regressive council for too long. It’s time to stand up for the community and argue for what takes Lismore forward. That’s why I’m on Council and I will not let Lismore regress.”

Cr Yarnall said he felt like a gladiator entering the Colosseum and that it wasn’t whether a gallery was needed but about risks, cost and timing.

Cr Clough said he understood Cr Yarnall’s concerns about cost but that it would be a crime to ignore the opportunity to put Council’s hand out for federal government cash.

After the Mayor used her casting vote to defeat the rescission motion, Cr Marks’ motion for a survey re-ignited the passionate debate, with councillors citing everything from other surveys to other region’s experiences and the opportunity to become the arts capital of Australia.

Cr Dowell asked everyone to calm down, saying she’d never used the gavel and she didn’t want to start.

In the third and final motion on the MOAC for the night, Cr Yarnall said Council needed to know exactly where the money was coming from.

In the end two of the most vehement supporters of the gallery, Crs Battista and Smith, ended up voting against the final recommendation because they thought extra reports were over-the-top.

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