Arts/Music/Film, Local, Opinion/Comment

“A City Hill Cultural Center could have been the envy of many” – Part 1

The following was originally written in 2017 for the City Hill Supporters Group prior to the Coffs Harbour City Council deciding to focus on Gordon Street for a cultural center in spite of City Hill having being gifted to the city by the government for a cultural center.

Given recent discussions on this site about the history of City Hill it is published in public now to add more to what we already know.

By Ron Sims

Because of my life-time of close and professional involvement with ‘culture and the arts’, as a nationally and internationally awarded practitioner, lecturer and academic, I have been asked to present my observations regarding the imminent Community Cultural Centre being planned for the Coffs Harbour and broader community. (Please see Ron Sims’ credentials at the end of this article).

I offer these views and discussions free of any political, commercial, selfish, or personal interests whatsoever… but with the sole hope that this may assist in securing the most helpful, fully rewarding, fully workable and, above all, inspirational focus for the cultural and creative pursuits of this exciting, and rapidly growing, region.

Now, although a true ‘community cultural centre’ should have the facility and scope to endorse a range of cultural identities such as Food Culture,  Dress Culture, science in culture, and the culture of play and sport, I will limit this discussion to the area of my particular involvement and expertise, namely the Culture of Visual, Audio and Performance Arts. And, here again, because it is unthinkable and unworkable in cultural terms to denigrate any indigenous or ethnic culture… or the ever evolving arts-cultures of the young in ours or the broader community, my observations here will automatically include all of these, both historically and contemporarily.

When I was approached, just a few weeks ago, to formally express my opinions I have to admit to feeling a mixture of thoughts and emotions. Firstly came those of excitement, the rush of the design challenge, the incredible possibilities that Coffs Harbour could anticipate a carefully considered, thoughtfully focussed and beautifully designed cultural hub to support and inspire the local talent, sponsor and encourage children and the young within the community and, one more vital thing, to open up Coffs to the awareness and respect of visiting arts performers, exhibiters, and practitioners from across the state… and much further.

Then the emotion of defeat barged in…  in planning and designing such a specific and high profile facility, it’s very easy to ‘miss the mark’, to compromise and fall outside the brief and finish up, not with a highly workable and sought-after venue, but one that really serves no one properly… or at all… the classic ‘white elephant’ like the one below.


Of great encouragement to me is the proposed location for the Cultural Centre.  

The magnificent 11 hectares of ideally situated and profiled land on City Hill is more than a great blessing… Coffs Harbour has here an absolutely perfect site for developing a seminal Centre for Culture that could become the envy of many. It’s the one thing that convinces me that here, in Coffs, a cultural hub of significant value and worth, for decades to come, can be designed and realised to a breathtaking degree… a stunning facility to inspire local artisans of all types and be a beacon of excellence, attracting visitors and participants from far afield.

Sounds a bit ‘over the top’, a bit altruistic? Well, no… as any professional artist will tell you, ‘ if you start out with low expectations, that will be exactly the height of your achievement!’

In the immortal words of the movie “Field of Dreams” given this locality;

                          “Dream it, build it. They will come!” 

The immortal Field of Dreams catchphrase

Now, before getting down to the real nuts and bolts of the Cultural Centre, as I observe it, may I set the scene for you by offering some ‘awareness pointers’ that most arts practitioners set their creative radar by, and steer their work by… it’s just that, in cultural pursuits, there are a few basic considerations that may not be obvious to everyone.

The expressive and creative arts, like clean air, are essential and highly beneficial for you (the practitioner) and for the greater community. In fact, as is historically proven, a society or community that is not rich, active and growing in its cultural pursuits will always be a poorer, weaker and less healthy body of people. Medicine is now agreeing with that view.

As a good friend of mine, a writer, puts it, ’we artists are responsible for promoting the mental and emotional wellbeing of our societies.’

  • Essentially, all artistic endeavours fall into three phases: the INSPIRATION, the PROCESS, the end PRODUCT. In most cases it is the PROCESS stage that becomes the artist’s life journey… the training, the gaining of technique, the rehearsal, the investigation and ‘pushing at barriers’ to become the best you can… to achieve something new or at least something different.
Creative Barriers Become an Artist’s Greatest Breakthroughs – ‘Looking Inside Yourself 2’
iPad drawing by Adam James Butcher
  • The notion of, and indeed insistence upon, good design is at the threshold of all creative works. The painter, the choreographer, the writer, the director, the actor, the composer etc. etc. all know that a weak or ill considered design seldom develops a good product. Design is the  absolute key.                                                                                             .

      And the definition of ‘good design’ is;

A good design fulfils its purpose.

I’ve put that in bold and italics because it is at the beginning and end of all creative/cultural pursuits (including, of course, the proposed City Hill Cultural Centre itself) and is so often not given anywhere near enough credence nor attention.

Ron Smith’s Credentials

Diploma in Stage and Studio Techniques

Degree in Fine Arts

Post Graduate degree in English… Film and Television

30 years with ABC, RN… sound designer, script writer, director, drama and features producer

Twice winner, the World Gold Medal  in Radio Features.  New York, USA

Churchill Fellowship awarded for developmental production of ‘Son et Lumiere’ Theatre… writer, director.

10 years head lecturer and course originator in Sound Production and Design at WAAPA  (WA Academy of Performing Arts).

5 years specialist teacher (middle-upper primary), Drama and Visual Art.

Co-author and illustrator of the book ‘Kangaroo Virus’, shortlisted for the Premier’s Award

Part 2 of Ron’s article will be published next week.

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