By Madison Behringer.
Plans to redevelop the Walsh Bay arts precinct in Barangaroo have been in the pipeline since as far back as 1998. In May 2018, plans were approved by the State Government for the precinct alongside a $207 million budget for the project. However just as quickly as the building began, the project has now been put on hold. Reconstruction of the precinct sits across two major sections: Pier 2/3 and Wharf 4/5. Building began on Wharf 4/5 in October 2018, however, unforeseen structural issues have caused the works to be put on hold until further notice.
The delays to works on Pier 2/3 are more complex however, involving lack of funding from Treasury delaying the commencement of any building or construction.
Once complete, the reconstruction of Wharf 4/5 will house Sydney Dance Company, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney Philharmonia, Gondwana, and Song Company, as well as new commercial retail opportunities. The creative companies who call Wharf 4/5 home are currently working out of temporary performance and workshop spaces. The delayed works on Pier 2/3 are causing bigger problems for the companies that are set to move into the new spaces there.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra, Bell Shakespeare and Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) have all had to find temporary residencies to work out of after having to vacate their previous workspaces in the Walsh Bay precinct.
Fraser Corfield, Artistic Director at ATYP said the following about the move, “Everyone’s moved off the wharf that was there…we’re now in offices on William Street and we’re kind of partnering with everybody and anybody for performance and workshop venues and all sorts of other things.”
Australian Theatre for Young People has fostered the early careers of several successful Australian actors including Rose Byrne, Rebel Wilson, Rob Carlton, and even Nicole Kidman. Their vision as a company is ‘to forever raise expectations of what theatre with young people can achieve.’ Not only do ATYP produce live theatre, but they also offer a wide range of hands-on workshops for young people. Finding new spaces to base these workshops in has taken a huge toll on the company’s revenue.
“What is costing us money is that audiences are loyal and they’re loyal to venues and spaces and routine, and when you up-end that and ask audiences to travel across town to new theatres, and when you ask them to travel across town to different workshops…you lose those audiences. ATYP has had a hit across all our earned income,” said Corfield.
It seems currently that Create NSW, Infrastructure NSW, and Arts Minister Don Harwin, are all pushing for Treasury to approve the funding needed for construction of Pier 2/3 to go ahead. Minister Harwin and Create NSW stated, “Development designs for Pier 2/3 for the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Bell Shakespeare and the Australian Theatre for Young People, as well as a retained heritage commercial events/art space for events such as Sydney Writers’ Festival, Biennale of Sydney and a wide range of cultural events, are being finalised.” They went on to say, “Create NSW continues to work collaboratively with all Pier 2/3 tenants. The completion date for Pier 2/3 will be determined after plans are finalised.”
Despite this, Millers Point Community Resident Action Group president John McInerney stated that Infrastructure NSW informed him in June that the works are still indefinite.
“We were informed that it is highly likely that this pier – until now a critical part of the vision for the precinct – will need to be boarded up and left inaccessible for an undefined period of time.”
Fraser Corfield expressed ATYP’s stance on the current situation however, saying: “We are aware that Create NSW, Infrastructure and the Minister are absolutely committed to Pier 2/3 and getting it up and we have found them nothing but supportive through that whole process. We are also aware that Pier 2/3 going ahead depends on Treasury and if for some reason Treasury does not approve the remaining money as is being requested, then ATYP is in a really difficult position. Because every year we’re out of Wharf, it’s costing us a lot of money.”
ATYP’s concerns are shared by both Bell Shakespeare and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, with all three companies left without a base for their work if funding isn’t granted by the state government.
“To that aspect, we have every confidence in the State Government that it will follow through on its promises and deliver the building and the plans that have been agreed to. If it doesn’t, the Government is essentially jeopardising the National Youth Theatre Company’s future,” said Corfield.
Next month a meeting of the Expenditure Review Committee will be held to decide whether the funding required to get Pier 2/3 up and running will be granted. Creatives around the country will be holding their breath as the decision could either make or break several of these flagship companies.
“It’s important for the state of New South Wales to be able to point to flagship organisations that are doing world-leading work, and ATYP is one of those organisations,” concluded Fraser, saying, “A major organisation like ATYP cannot exist without support from its state government.”