25 February 2021

UPDATED: Arts ACT defends Belco Arts getting lion's share of emergency COVID-19 funding

| Dominic Giannini
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Sam Tyler

Arts ACT Executive Branch Manager Sam Tyler defended the $550,000 grant to the Belconnen Arts Centre. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

The head of Arts ACT has dismissed concerns that prudent organisations that saved money during the pandemic were penalised with lesser grants after Belconnen Arts Centre received more than half of the ACT Government’s $1 million emergency grant fund.

The Belconnen Arts Centre received $550,000 in May, 10 times more than the Tuggeranong Arts Centre, prompting the head of the latter to call the allocation a “slap in the face” last year.

Fronting Committee Hearings on Tuesday (24 February), Arts ACT Executive Branch Manager Sam Tyler said the financial position of centres were taken into consideration when allocating funding, including what money could be reallocated from programs that were affected by COVID-19.

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“The individual circumstances of each organisation were very different during that period in terms of what they were able to access in terms of government funding through JobKeeper and other initiatives,” Ms Tyler said.

“The allocation of funding was based on an analysis of their financial position and the application that was made and their ability to remain solvent throughout that COVID period.”

The answer prompted Committee Chair Liberal MLA for the Tuggeranong-based Brindabella electorate, Nicole Lawder, to question whether this criterion negatively affected centres and organisations who chose not to spend money once the pandemic hit.

The Belconnen Arts Centre

Stage 2 of the Belconnen Arts Centre was completed in 2020 during COVID-19. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Ms Tyler said this was not the case and that the lion’s share of the funding went towards the Belconnen Arts Centre due to the “unique” impact of COVID-19.

“That was not only because of the issues that were faced by many organisations in not being able to offer programs and selling tickets and having exhibitions, but also because stage 2 of the Belconnen Arts Centre was finalised during that COVID period,” Ms Tyler said.

“The support for the Belconnen Arts Centre was [also] recognising that they were taking on a new facility where ongoing operational funding had not been offered at that point.”

Ongoing operational funding that would have been considered last year as part of the ACT Budget was subsequently delayed when the budget was pushed to February 2021 due to the pandemic.

UPDATED 25 February, 11:25 am: Executive director and co-CEO of the Belconnen Arts Centre Jack Lloyd reaffirmed Ms Tyler’s comments, saying the centre “faced significant new operational costs to responsibly and safely manage and activate a major new performing arts venue, rehearsal room, gallery and cafe space”.

“For comparison, the Street Theatre’s ACT Government funding is $850,000 per annum for a comparable facility to the new spaces built at Belco Arts,” he said.

“Without operational funding between July 2020 and December 2021, we would not have been able to accept responsibility for the new facility. This would result in an empty building and defects failing to be rectified under warranty, creating further expense to the arts budget.

“Instead, as a result of funding being confirmed, we were able to take on the building and activate the spaces with newly commissioned artists’ works, while keeping audiences safe during the pandemic.”

The ACT Government received 10 applications and one was subsequently withdrawn. Ms Tyler said the remaining nine received the amount, or close to, what they had requested.

Tuggeranong Arts Centre CEO Rauny Worm declined to comment.

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