BY CHRISTOPHER HARRIS
Supporters and friends of the beleaguered Archway One Theatre gathered on Saturday to protest the shock move by the City of Sydney to change the locks on the theatre.
The move to physically lock out the theatre company on last Friday morning came as a surprise to the community, who thought there was a glimmer of hope for the theatre, following a string of council compliance issues.
The theatre company said that the move happened unannounced and that it was contrary to their understanding with the recently deceased deputy Lord Mayor, Robyn Kemmis, who had indicated that further negotiations would take place in January.
According to the theatre’s artistic director, Rachel Jordan, the theatre company was due to resume discussions on January 8, but that never occurred.
“Instead, there’s has been little constructive response from anyone at the City of Sydney, and locking us out seems to indicate that any negotiation has ended before it even started,” Ms Jordan said in a statement on Friday afternoon.
Ms Jordan said that discussions between Eva Cox AO and Clr Kemmis had resolved some “bureaucratic misunderstandings.”
She said that the company had undertaken a fire audit, which revealed nothing unsafe about using the building as a performance space, which was the City’s original problem with the company.
Ms Jordan said that her independent audit contravened the findings of the City.
The company agreed not to use the space until the findings of another independent fire audit were released.
She said that the council resolved to help the theatre become compliant if they were found not to be.
Social justice advocate Eva Cox said that the City may have breached the law by not adhering to the process.
“This high handed insensitive action makes a nonsense of City of Sydney’s claims to concerns about due process and fairness, as well as encouraging local cultural initiative. CEO Monica Barone was supposed to liaise directly with the Archway 1 group to discuss their future, but this has never happened. Barone has sought to undermine due process and the law by her recent decision.”
Speaking to City Hub earlier this week, Ms Cox said that since the death of Robyn Kemmis, the council had backflipped on the plan.
She also said that the fire report done by council contradicted the theatre’s own council report done on the same date and time.
“What we’re trying to do is say remove the padlock, let us back in and stay to June, and we agree to make the changes which should only be a couple of thousand. In that time, we can have a conversation about whether or not we can have
an arts facility for the local community, as it was stated in the original plan.”
A City spokesperson said that a variety of safety risks had also been identified in addition to the archway being used for things outside of its DA. It said an independent audit found significant access, fire safety and electrical works are necessary for the premises to be compliant with building code requirements and other safety regulations.
City staff have been in touch with the tenants more than 10 times in recent months to offer them alternative City hire venues for their activities and opportunities to apply for the City’s accommodation grants and creative spaces programs, and will continue to do so where possible.
The City’s CEO and staff have at all times acted transparently and in accordance with the strategic direction of Council, and the tenants have been fully informed during this process.”