New gallery going nowhere fast

The ongoing saga of the Margaret Olley Arts Centre has hit another hurdle with councillors Graham Meineke, Neil Marks and Peter Graham lodging a rescission motion to stop a design architect being appointed to the project.

On Tuesday Council voted to appoint Sydney-based architectural and design firm Tonkin Zulaikha Greer to undertake a design for the gallery (Crs Marks, Chant, Meineke and Graham against) so it could be submitted by January 15 for consideration in the federal government’s competitive Regional and Local Community Infrastructure program.

Mayor Jenny Dowell told the public gallery that the arts centre would not go ahead if they were not successful in getting the federal government funding.

But she said the rescission motion raised concerns that some councillors don’t believe Council should be building a gallery at all.

“If we don’t get an application in, that will be the end of it for Lismore,” Mayor Dowell said. “There is a window of opportunity to get up to $5 million from the federal government, and we already have an assurance of $1 million from Southern Cross University, that will not come again in the foreseeable future.”

Mayor Dowell said concept plans had been developed well beyond what they had expected and that lodging the funding application was not necessarily dependant upon the decision they had taken on Tuesday night.

“But the reduced time frame, particularly over Christmas when people traditionally take leave, is deeply concerning. It’s not just the arts community but the economy would miss out as well. It’s part of the revitalisation of the CBD – the gallery is a key plank in that plan,” she said.

But councillor Graham Meineke said a new gallery was a luxury Council could not afford at this time.

“We would have to borrow $3 million and what I gleaned from the auditor’s report was that our borrowings are probably nearing their limit. So we should be very cautious about borrowing for a development that to my mind will have questionable benefits for Lismore,” he said.

“There are other ways of showcasing our artists’ talents in the area. Council could lease empty shops in the CBD and put artists (works) in those shops. The building owners would benefit from Council paying rent and local artists would benefit from displaying their wares. I doubt they will get a guernsey in the (Margaret Olley) art gallery... It won’t benefit local artists, it’s aimed at the larger travelling exhibitions that currently bypass Lismore and go to the Tweed gallery or the Grafton gallery.”

The rescission motion is likely to be heard at the December meeting.

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