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People walking around at Carriageworks Summer Night Markets
Photograph: Jacquie Manning

The future of Carriageworks is secure as philanthropist-backed bailout is signed

The agreement provides certainty for resident companies, events and the farmers market

Stephen A Russell

After ten nail-biting weeks of voluntary administration, the plan to secure the future of Redfern arts institution Carriageworks has been signed, sealed and delivered.

Recognising the creative hub based at the former Eveleigh Railway Workshops as an intrinsic part of Sydney’s cultural makeup, the deal, negotiated between the creditors, the Carriageworks board and the NSW government, was championed by a collective of impassioned philanthropists including the Packer family, Michael Gonski, Kerr Neilson, Geoff Ainsworth and Johanna Featherstone.

In practical terms, their backing secured a 20-year lease and five-years of operational funding. It’s a huge relief for the resident companies that call Carriageworks home, including Performance Space, Sydney Chamber Opera, Moogahlin Performing Arts, Force Majeure and the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art.

Ensuring that they can continue to host exciting shows, exhibitions and other events, the deal should also pave the way for the return of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia and Saturday afternoon highlight, the Carriageworks Farmers Market.

Carriageworks CEO Blair French said he had been heartened by the strength of community support for the institution. “That gave great heart to everyone involved with Carriageworks. I wish to thank everyone who has lent support over recent weeks, and in particular, the wonderful philanthropists who have made extremely generous financial pledges to secure our future.”

Thanking the administrators and the state government for constructive dialogue, he also recognised the emotional and financial impact on staff, artists, suppliers, farmers market producers and audiences. “Over 100 years ago this industrial place was born out of resilience and innovation,” he said. “Through sheer grit, determination and collaboration, we are still here with a promising, independent future. We can’t wait to welcome back the community.”

Carriageworks Chair Cass O’Connor shared his hope for a brighter future. “‘Never waste a good crisis’ is apt guidance for current times,” she said. “We have emerged from voluntary administration in the middle of a global pandemic with the longest lease in Carriageworks’ history and a revised business model which is better able to cope with the challenges evident all around us. We could not have done that without Geoff Ainsworth and Jo Featherstone’s Oranges & Sardines Foundation, the Neilson family’s Neilson Foundation, the Gonski family’s Gonski Foundation or the Packer Family’s continued support of our Solid Ground program.”

After more than two months of distress for the resident companies, there was relief at the first whiff of a rescue deal when we checked in with them earlier this month. Jeff Khan, artistic director of Performance Space, said it was terrific, if overdue, news. “It means that Performance Space and our fellow resident companies can plan for the future with a bit more certainty. It’s reassuring to know that our home is safe, and that this irreplaceable hub for contemporary art and performance is entering a new phase, poised to make an even greater contribution to our cultural life at a time when our communities need it most.”

A sentiment shared by Mikala Tai, director of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. “I’m excited that Sydney retains an organisation and venue that ensures experimental work remains in a ‘big house’. It was such great news to hear when the arts are taking such a battering at the moment.”

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas

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