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Carriageworks goes into voluntary administration, calls for government support

The historic Carriageworks, based in Sydney’s Eveleigh Railway Complex, has gone into voluntary administration after the cancellation of all events and activities due to coronavirus-related restrictions.

A lack of government funding and support has left the future of the culture and arts centre in question. With Carriageworks’ closure, Sydney faces irreparable cultural devastation.

Carriageworks is the largest contemporary multi-arts centre in the whole of Australia, becoming a cultural haven for Sydney’s vibrant arts community.

In a statement, Carriageworks announced that 75 per cent of their revenue is generated outside of government funding, predominately through onsite events and arts programs. With a heavy reliance on performance grants, it has become clear that the cultural centre lacks the government support and funding needed to keep it afloat.

Built between 1880 and 1889, Carriageworks ran as a locomotive maintenance workshop for Sydney’s expanding and complex railway network. Almost facing desolation, Carriageworks was refurbished and saved by the arts community who turned it into the vibrant cultural precinct it is today.

According to CEO Blair French, Carriageworks would usually attract around one million visitors a year. The organisation was forced to cancel all of their upcoming events and programs due to restrictions, resulting in an “irreparable loss of income” of up to 70%. These include the annual Sydney Writers’ Festival, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, the weekly Farmer’s Market and the semi-permanent VIVID design event.

The Sydney Writers’ Festival is a celebration of literature, sharing fresh stories and ideas from writers around the globe every year.

“Like many other arts organisations, the cancellation of our Festival has put us in a perilous financial situation, not only for this year but beyond.”

The Farmer’s Market was usually open to the public every Saturday morning, selling fresh and local produce from around the city. Attracting up to 5ooo people, it has become a platform for independent food stores and farmers from and around NSW. Carriageworks also holds the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, which has become the nation’s only international fashion and leading industry event.

With minimal government funding and major reliance on performance grants, Carriageworks’ events, such as the Sydney Writers’ Festival, have reached out to the public for donations amidst the crisis.

The arts have been one of the hardest-hit sectors in NSW by the coronavirus. Bookshops, galleries, museums, theatres, venues, pubs, and cinemas from the across the nation have all closed down and struggled to adapt in the crisis. Festivals, live music, performance, and workshops are some of the many events that have been cancelled. Australian theatres and galleries are seeing ghost lights instead of spotlights right now.

“This has happened because the Australia Council’s funding has been frozen since 2013 — in fact, it’s been chipped away at by about $6 million a year,” Nicole Beyer from Theatre Network Australia shared.

The arts industry is one of the largest in Australia, with 50,000 professional artists and 600,000 workers. Although, the aviation industry is 1/6 of the size of the arts, it was given a $750 million stimulus package a few weeks ago.

“The creative and cultural industries contribute $111.7bn to GDP, compared with aviation’s $18bn. Unlike aviation, our cash flows don’t follow steady daily and monthly patterns, and so it’s hard to demonstrate our downturn,” The Guardian report.

For instance, festivals receive 80% of their annual turnover in just a few months of the year. What goes on behind-the-scenes ties all the loose ends and brings it all together, to create an experience that audiences remember. All the hard work, time and money that is pushed into a cultural event is lost if it doesn’t go ahead and there is really no way of making up for that lost income.

The Victorian Government announced just the other day that they will put $40 million into pubs, clubs and restaurants in response to the loss of income from coronavirus. However, the NSW State Government is still yet to announce a stimulus package for the arts.

“The election of a government intent on a radical overhaul of public investment has merely intensified an ongoing problem to breaking point. Our cultural expectations have always suffered from a poverty of imagination,” The Monthly share.

The lack of government support for creative industries in NSW has left organisations like the Carriageworks in turmoil. It is especially worrying to see that Carriageworks has been forced to call in administration, with only 26% of businesses in this position making it out the other side.

In the event of the closure, the Carriageworks could be the canary in the coal mine for Sydney’s art culture. If the nation’s largest multi-arts centre is in serious trouble, it calls for immediate financial support from federal and state governments. Cultural centres and events provide a platform and voice for diverse groups of people, creating a sense of community and identity in a place. A city is really nothing without its culture. It would be truly devastating to see that evaporate.

Carriageworks Board of Directors announced the appointment of Voluntary Administrators, KPMG. Read the official statement here.

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May 5, 2020