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Councils reduce community venue hiring fees to address “chronically underutilised” spaces

Barrett House Randwick

Barrett House in Randwick is being investigated as a possible location for more arts and culture activities. Photo: wikimedia.org

By SASHA FOOT

Randwick Council will reduce the costs of hiring community spaces for arts and cultural purposes, while the City of Sydney will slash fees altogether by making council hiring premises free for community groups to use. Greens councillor at Randwick Council Rafaela Pandolfini told City Hub that right now many community venues are largely vacant.

“Council spaces are chronically underutilised: the Randwick Town Hall is being used just under 10 percent of the time, and that’s pre-covid,” Cr Pandolfini said.

“It’s certainly not just an issue for Randwick Council, I’ve encountered it with the City of Sydney and the Inner West Council.”

Randwick Council says council venues such as the Randwick Town Hall are mostly vacant. Photo: wikimedia.org

Cr Pandolfini, an artist herself, understands the difficulty in accessing gallery spaces at affordable costs.  

“One of the biggest issues for artists is income and the lack of spaces – especially in Sydney where rental costs are ridiculous.”

Cr Pandolfini pursued a $1200 weekly hire rate for artists at the recent council meeting, yet the meeting resolved that fees decrease to $500 for daily weekday use and $750 for weekends. The reduction only applies when used for arts or cultural activities. 

Booking system flagged as issue for Sydney venues

For the City of Sydney, the one-year fee waiver is about increasing community presence to match pre-covid visitor numbers. Local community groups will be eligible for the council’s liability insurance. 

Sydney Greens Councillor Sylvie Ellsmore said community centres “had less than 20 percent of visitors at the end of last year” compared to pre-covid levels. 

“Community halls are incredibly important in connecting people – from knitting clubs, and choirs to political meetings – and the council wasn’t doing enough to support those activities,” she said. 

Cr Ellsmore said the booking system is one of the central reasons community groups were not using available spaces.

“Currently it takes two weeks for groups to book a space, which is much too long.”

The Coalition Caring for Community Centres approached the council with the issue. Group members of the coalition and conveners of the Friends of Ultimo, Patricia Johnson and Jean-Pierre Alexandre, expressed their support for the outcome. 

“People who were previously unable to afford fees or to take out public liability insurance can now return to community centres. Its expected attendance will rise quite considerably,” Johnson and Alexandre told City Hub. 

Randwick council investigates Town Hall and Barrett House for arts and culture 

In May, Randwick Council commissioned a report to identify the feasibility of using the Randwick Town Hall and Barrett House for arts and cultural activities. The report revealed that just seven bookings were made for the town hall in 2019, one of which was non-council related. 

Cr Pandolfini acknowledged the report had an “extremely tight turnaround” as adjustments needed to align with the budget. 

“While the staff didn’t have enough time to look at other spaces, the potential costs, and what artists can afford, it was agreed they would look further into the conditions of hire for Randwick Town Hall.”

Randwick Council will also conduct trials to understand how to best adapt the spaces for events like art exhibitions. 

“The council needs to look at what other galleries in the area are charging artists and why artists are choosing to use particular spaces,” she said. 

“Randwick Council has only just adopted an arts and culture policy so they have a long way to go; the City of Sydney, on the other hand, has advocated for the arts for a long time.”

Cr Pandolfini is hopeful that by “committing to investing in infrastructure, artists and art events”, Randwick Council will provide better opportunities for artists in the area.   

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