My wife and I attended the opening night of the Still Life Art exhibition (STILL) at the Coffs Harbour Art Gallery on the evening of Friday 20 September. My wife being a graduate of the University of NSW’s City Art Institute.
By Chris Bramley
Our congratulations to the Gallery for the exhibition, the artists who submitted works and the eventual winner.
I also declare that I am Co-Chair of the Citizens’ Voice Coffs Coast (“Citizens’ Voice”) which opposes the inclusion of Council Office space and chambers within the Gordon Street project.
Contrary to the incorrect assertions made at the opening of STILL by the Mayor and Ms Heather McKinnon (pictured below), of Friends of the Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery, and those supporting the inclusion of Council offices within the Gordon Street project, Citizens’ Voice unequivocally endorses extensive cultural facilities on the Coffs Coast.
Having been denied development of City Hill by Council, the whole community deserves venues that are the very best available and not at the expense of one element of the arts over another, as is the case with the Gordon Street project. There should be no argument for second rate facilities or exclusion.
So far 13,253 residents have taken the effort to sign the circulating Petition, which clearly states in part;
“We the residents ..desire and request a pause in the progress of the Council Chambers, Art Gallery, Library and Museum project..pending more and meaningful community consultation on that project…and more meaningful community consultation for the assessment of other options for a new Performing Arts facility, Art Gallery, Library and Museum for our local government area.”
The community’s overwhelming support for the Petition signals it had high expectations for the new Cultural and Arts project, having waited decades for the development of the City Hill Cultural precinct. The negative public reaction is the consequence in my opinion of having the project hijacked by Council. It reflects the common view that the public had been misled and cheated and wondering where there promised Entertainment Centre has gone. And rightly so.
The fact the Museum has a compromised space within the Gallery tells us that to Council, and others, not all cultural endeavours deserve equal standing. “Some are more equal then others” it seems
Where were objections from the Gallery or Library supporting the lack of space for the Museum or the complete lack of space for the Performing Arts?
It is an injustice for all those passionately involved in Culture and Arts on the Coffs Coast and for our broader community, particularly the youth who will miss out on expansive, contemporary facilities.
Surely, the community deserves better having waited for generations? Surely, we should expect contemporary, multi-use facilities catering to all forms of artistic pursuits, community participation and tourism?
Notable Comments from the STILL Opening
Heather McKinnon stated “it is very difficult to get cultural infrastructure into a community”, suggesting the community was opposed, but I doubt that.
The issue is not our community’s stance as shown by the outpouring of criticism. Nor is it the State and Federal Government’s stances, as grants for the Arts are available to Council for genuine arts and entertainment centres. But not for a building housing Council itself.
No the issue lies with our Council, the lack of successive leadership and those who “pull the strings”.
It occurred to me that if it were such an important issue, why did Ms McKinnon and the “Be Brave” people, the Chamber of Commerce, the former Tourism Association and all those subordinate groups that orbit the CBD, not push for City Hill years ago?
Why did they not publicly object to the proposed new Council offices?
Why would those same people/groups not even expect a bigger and better outcome for the Cultural and Arts community out of the Gordon Street project?
Why are they compromising to the extent that the new Gallery, Museum and Library will be effectively redundant before they are built? Coffs Coast will get no second chance.
Particularly noteworthy, was that in their opening addresses, both Heather McKinnon and the Mayor only referred to the Library, Museum and Gallery at Gordon Street.
This was especially noteable given the presence of the NSW Minister for the Arts, Don Harwin (below) in the audience.
The glaring omission of any reference to Council offices or the detrimental impact of Council’s space replacing a Performing Arts zone in front of the Minister, yet still admonishing critics, was anything but a “class act” in my opinion.
Those double standards were an example of why the community is angry and why they are disillusioned with a Mayor, who was once a champion for Culture and the Arts, the Performing Arts in particular, and who now seems to have forgotten them.
The public are rightly fed up with a lack of proper Cultural and Arts facilities and rightly angry that they were led to believe the Gordon Street project was a solution, albeit substandard only to find it has been further hijacked by Council and possibly others too.
People may recall the Mayor stating the Library Gallery Advisory Panel suggested that Council’s current buildings were nearing the end of useful life even though the General Manager maintains they are worth $20million, minus a 10% discouint, to an investor.
Hence, it would seem to me that there was a grand strategy to replace the performing arts space in the new building with Council offices, without genuine consultation with the broader community.
I have reviewed the supposed community consultation and is was a farce in my opinion.
I quote from the Review of Community Consultation and Stakeholder Engagement 2018:
- 233 attended 23 separate focus groups and stakeholder meetings (average 10 per meeting or the same 10 attended subsequent meetings)
- 236 completed the concept design survey (before Council dumped the shortlisted designs, seemingly without explanation or due process)
- 2900 “instances” of online engagements (what defines an “instance”)
- 475 completed the library and gallery strategic planning surveys
- 831 survey comments/feedback received
- 1421 “key phrases of feedback” from focus groups and written feedback analysed
The 233 who physically attending the focus groups equates to only 0.05% of registered voters in the community, or even less if they attended multiple sessions.
It begs the questions:
- If Council truly wanted the community’s feedback, why were we all not contacted?
- Why were we all not invited?
- Why were only some invited and over multiple sessions?
The simple answer in my view is that Council did not want to hear the broader community’s opinion.
Make of the terminology (“instances, key phrases, comments/feedback”) as you will, but consider there are upwards of 33,000 residences and 45,000 voters in the Local Government Area.
Ask yourself do you feel that Council made an appropriate effort to consult you over the following:
- the choice of Gordon Street over an entire Cultural and Arts precinct at City Hill,
- the 2016 replacement of the performing arts space with Council offices,
- the sale of public property,
- spending $76 million, if that figure can be trusted, on a building that will effectively be operationally redundant in comparison to the existing facilities and space.
Chris Bramley is Co-Chair of Citizens’ Voice Coffs Coast