The City of Sydney has told the operators of Darlinghurst-based community arts centre the TAP Gallery that they are no longer permitted to use the space as a theatre. The closure has forced the cancellation of an upcoming benefit for the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation.
This revelation comes after an inspection by the City of Sydney determined the space failed to meet fire safety standards in July.
The building was constructed in 1896 and has never been extensively renovated, but a City of Sydney spokesperson explained that the fire safety concerns were not the sole reason for the immediate closure.
“There were also issues identified with the venue’s approval to operate as a performance space. A separate Order under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act was issued in response,” the spokesperson said.
This Act prohibited the use of the space for any performance use after the 4th of November.
The venue’s manager, Lesley Dimmick, said she had no idea that the venue was in breach.
“We had a very big shock last Tuesday (October 28) when we went into a meeting and they asked us to put in a new development application (DA),” she said.
“When we moved in here in 1993 we were approved to run a community arts centre. If you look up the meaning of community arts centre online, you’ll see that it’s a visual and performing arts centre for the community.”
“So we’ve been doing that. We’ve been doing visual art and performing art.”
Ms Dimmick had been given a two stage fire compliance plan by the council and had already completed the first stage when she was told about the DA.
“We’ve made all the doors push outwards, we’ve done a huge clear out of accumulated paintings that we’ve since removed because they saw the storage of the paintings as a fire risk, and we’ve put non-slip material on both our exits,” she said.
“The second stage, which had to be finished by Christmas was going to be far more expensive, but now we don’t know what will happen.”
Following the request for a new DA, the council had promised help the gallery to attempt to ensure that a production of ‘Playing Rock Hudson’ would go ahead and which would benefit the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation and help to provide assistance to people living with HIV/AIDS.
“Unfortunately, the company touring the show has decided to cancel their Sydney season as they felt that moving to another venue at short notice was not practical,” a spokesperson said.
The production’s Director, Cameron Lukey was in the middle of rehearsals when he was informed that the TAP theatre space had been shut down.
“We’d been rehearsing since the start of October and planning for several months before that,” he said.
“The money had been invested, the time had been invested, we had already started sourcing the costumes, and we’d already bought the set material – all of that stuff was ready to go. It was last minute and it was just shattering to be completely honest.”
Ms Dimmick believes that council’s approach as a whole to the arts community has been half hearted.
“They say there are no new premises on the horizon, but we all know the city of Sydney owns a lot of property in this area and often they’ve put people in there on peppercorn rent.”
One building that Ms Dimmick was particularly angered by was the iconic T2 building for which the TAP gallery lodged a DA in 2010 to make their new home. At the time council told Ms Dimmick that their acquisition of the building would not affect her DA but only weeks later informed her she could not move in.
This essentially forced the TAP to stay put and the T2 building has remained empty. In March, council passed a motion to turn the building into a bike hub.
Mr Lukey shared Ms Dimmick’s concerns when reflecting on council’s attempts to find them a new space.
“I think it also brings up a broader issue that there are so few venues in Sydney. Almost all of the theatres are curated, so there’s really no spaces for hire left – the TAP was one of the last,” he said.
“I know from speaking to the council that that’s something they’re aware of – that independent theatre is going to die.”
A petition addressed to Lord Mayor Clover Moore asking that the TAP Gallery be able to continue to run as a performance space has been shared on Facebook, even attracting the signature of the Former Minister for the Arts, Tony Burke.
“I was introduced to independent theatre at the TAP. It guarantees new performances can find an audience and helps foster creativity and new content. This venue matters,” he said in a statement on the site.