A production at Lismore City Hall by Norpa, I Want to Know What Love Is.
A production at Lismore City Hall by Norpa, I Want to Know What Love Is.

Cuts to arts funding will have a 'ripple effect' across town

LISMORE City Council is risking the viability of Norpa and millions of dollars of State and Federal funding for the region by cutting its management fee for Lismore City Hall.

In an exclusive interview with The Northern Star, out-going general manager Patrick Healey is appealing to the council to scrap a proposal to slash in half its $256,000 management fee for Lismore City Hall.

"It is important the council understands that making a sudden $130,000 cut to the management fee, which is only two tenths of one percent per cent of the LCC overall budget, provides no opportunity for Norpa to adjust its business plan and would force the board of Norpa to consider all aspects of Norpa's management of the venue," Mr Healey said.

While he understands the council needs to make cuts to address its own balance sheet, Mr Healey says, "strategic planning is needed to make sure the growth and economic potential of the city is safe-guarded. The draft Economic Plan before council has the creative industries and Norpa as a key component of Lismore's future economic opportunities. The perilous nature of the proposed sudden cuts directly undermines that economic plan".

Mr Healey has estimated to run a regional performing arts centre, without the theatre production company in residence, would cost the council more than $700,000 a year. That is a conservative estimate as the rate payers contribute $1,460,000 in Tamworth, $1,000,000 in Bathurst, and more than $800,000 in Griffith.

Mr Healey, who is also director of Regional Arts NSW, said: "The current management arrangement is unique and has meant the city is able to operate the venue for between 20 and 30 per cent of the costs of any other similar facility in Australia. It's a very lean deal only made possible because Norpa is a theatre company that attracts state and federal funding that other regional entertainment centres are not eligible to apply for".

Julian Louis, Artistic Director and CEO of Norpa, said: "What is at risk is what goes on inside this building. Lismore City Hall has been the home base of Norpa for 26 years, enabling us to generate original works that tell the story of our region, to develop regional based performing artists, to provide opportunities for young people to witness and experience theatre, dance and music, and to share world class entertainment with audiences from across the region. Any great city has a great cultural sector and Norpa is the performing arts pillar of the Northern Rivers".

"We don't just bring work here: we are makers. We proudly create original work inspired by the stories, landscape and characters of our area. This is what is unique and this is what is in jeopardy."

"There are 250 venues like City Hall in regional Australia but what makes Lismore unique is NORPA, because we are one of only three companies in regional Australia making new work. It's important to understand this is a huge advantage for our community. It is because NORPA is a nationally recognised, regionally based theatre company that we can attract State and Federal funding and investment for Lismore that is not available to other venues.

"Lismore City Council should be providing a secure base for our operations to grow not to diminish," Mr Louis said.

Mr Healey, who is also the retiring co-president of the Lismore Chamber of Commerce, said it was also important to understand the 'ripple effect' the cuts would have on the broader business community in terms of NORPA's capital infrastructure, the jobs, training and education programs it creates, as well as the people and tourism dollars it brings to the city.

He said: "46 per cent of our audience comes from outside the 2480 postcode and, every time a tour comes through, that means 10 accommodation beds filled with meals and petrol bought."