Former Lismore Regional Gallery director Steven Alderton with Margaret Olley and Steven’s partner Sally Watterson.
Former Lismore Regional Gallery director Steven Alderton with Margaret Olley and Steven’s partner Sally Watterson.

Arts Centre of attention

Having just left Lismore after four-and-a-half years as director of the Lismore Regional Gallery, Steven Alderton can’t believe some councillors want to stop progress on a new gallery.

“The gallery has been in that building for 56 years. It moved in a year after Council condemned it... the walls are held together by glueing pieces of A4 paper on the walls and painting over them. The building has been extensively damaged by continuing floods so the foundations are damaged and really, we need a gallery that befits Lismore as the artistic centre of the Northern Rivers,” he said.

Mr Alderton’s comments were prompted by a rescission motion put forward by councillors Graham Meineke, Neil Marks and Peter Graham aimed at stopping an architect being appointed to come up with a design for the Margaret Olley Arts Centre.

“The whole idea is not just about an art gallery, it’s about city revitalisation and giving Lismore an identity through the gallery... We need to look at the macro side of it and develop cultural tourism and a facility like this will bring the numbers in,” he said.

A report into the economic potential of the gallery written by the Tweed Economic Development Corporation suggests the centre would attract an additional 40,000 visitors a year, adding $9.1 million to the Lismore economy.

“Lismore has to compete with Byron and Ballina and Tweed. What’s our point of difference? The Northern Rivers has the highest number of artists outside of the capital cities anywhere in Australia. If Lismore wants to be the capital centre for the North Coast, we need a cultural facility that reflects that,” Mr Alderton said. “If you make great roads, that’s not what people come here to see. You have to give them something... This is a facility that will stand the test of time, named after one of our great artists in Margaret Olley, that will bring in people from all over Australia. It will put Lismore on the map and help it become a major cultural destination.”

But Cr Marks said he was concerned Council would need to increase rates to pay for the ongoing running costs of a new gallery.

Cr Meineke said Council was already at its borrowing limit and now was not the time to be borrowing more for a new gallery. He also said he is yet to be convinced that the gallery will benefit local artists.

“I think the best way Council could assist local artists is to rent out shop spaces in town for artists on a revolving basis,” Cr Meineke said.

But Steven disagrees.

“Local artists were at the core of my programming... Karla Dickens, Robyn Sweeny, Christine Willcocks, Digby Moran, Frances Belle-Parker, Angus McDonald, the list is ongoing. The new gallery would give local artists somewhere to exhibit as well as attracting travelling exhibitions. We have identified that there is lots of supply and little demand for local artists’ work. There will be a shop in the new gallery for local artists and craft practitioners to sell their work. The Margaret Olley Arts Centre will help create demand by putting on high quality exhibitions. The debate that it is not for local artists is totally false,” he said.

Mr Alderton also pointed to a survey conducted by Council for the Lismore Alive report in 2009 that put creative arts in the top three things that Lismore people wanted to see in order to revive the CBD.

“Lismore is a sophisticated, progressive place... For me when people say we need roads, yes we do, and sports facilities, but it needs a sophisticated mix of services that reflects its size and stature.”


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