Government reveals plan for Perth’s ‘beating cultural heart’

18 May 2022

The McGowan Government has announced extra funding for the Perth Cultural Centre redevelopment. But can infrastructure investment alone resuscitate an arts and culture sector still struggling with the challenges of COVID and ongoing budget cuts?

The State Government has allocated an additional $15 million in funding to deliver an expanded redevelopment of the Perth Cultural Centre (PCC), delivering “a beating cultural heart for the city”.

The Northbridge area, bounded by Beaufort and William Streets, houses museums, galleries and theatres and has been earmarked for development as part of the $1.7 billion Perth City Deal.

The precinct will undergo a $35 million rejuvenation, with a $25 million State Government contribution. The remaining $10 million is a contribution from the Australian Government.

Culture and the Arts Minister David Templeman said, “The McGowan Government’s commitment to this project will see the PCC transformed into a more vibrant, welcoming and accessible place for Western Australians and tourists alike. This additional State Government funding means we can deliver on more of the vision outlined in the precinct’s masterplan, providing a major boost to the overall redevelopment.”

What will it look like?

The Cultural Precinct Taskforce has released the project’s master plan, after a lengthy consultation process. The plan aims to transform the area into a connected, thriving and welcoming precinct that connects the major cultural institutions in the area and enhances the representation of Aboriginal culture and the arts.

The conceptual plan includes the development of a new shady central space to provide the precinct with a focal point. The works will also include the demolition of the amphitheatre and development of a more accessible, graded streetscape.

An aerial view of a green oval space in the centre surrounded by heritage buildings. People are milling around and a gold-coloured shade structure curves above them
An image of the central space of the Perth Cultural Centre from the Master Plan of the proposed redevelopment. Image supplied

An Art Gallery of Western Australia car park will be demolished to introduce better connections to Beaufort Street and create a new children’s play place. The project will deliver enhanced lighting and security, open up under-utilised spaces, and create a better environment for families and tourists visiting the area.

The Department for Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries has engaged the services of architects Taylor Robinson Chaney Broderick and landscape architects Taylor Cullity Lethlean to lead the development of the masterplan.

The PCC rejuvenation is part of the McGowan Government’s ten year Perth City Deal investment (in partnership with the City of Perth and the Australian Government) which was announced in 2020. The infrastructure plan includes redeveloping the Perth Concert Hall and WACA plus building several inner city university campuses, design work for the Perth Aboriginal Cultural Centre and an improved transport plan.

Arts sector funding remains in deficit

The announcement coincided with the handing down last week of the state budget with a surplus of $5.7 billion in 2021-2022. Despite the surplus there has been no effective increase in the arts budget, leaving the arts sector on edge over the forthcoming financial year.

There is concern in the sector that the PCC project’s vision to create “a beating cultural heart for the City” glosses over the fact that the state’s arts and culture sector is struggling to survive budget cuts under successive governments for many years.

Executive Director of The Chamber of Arts and Culture WA, Kim Jameson, said, “The Chamber is pleased to see this investment in cultural infrastructure. But it must be overlaid with an investment in the human element of our creative community, which is the artists and arts organisations at a local level.”

Perth Cultural Centre flythrough

Jameson said the sector hasn’t seen an increase in government investment in the last 5-6 years. The 2022-23 $76 million arts budget is not in-line with inflation, leaving the sector to operate in a deficit environment. The $50 million COVID support funding is also no longer available for the forthcoming financial year.

“Government investment in previous years and in the forthcoming budget continues to devalue the impact and value of small to medium organisations role in supporting communities through a very difficult two years,” said Jameson.

“If we want Perth to be internationally significant we need to be locally relevant and retain the unique local flavour of all our regions, that comes from our independent artists.”

“[The infrastructure funding] must be overlaid with an investment in the human element of our creative community, which is the artists and arts organisations at a local level.”

Kim Jameson, Executive Director, The Chamber of Arts and Culture WA

The Chamber’s recent Financial and Well-being survey of the sector revealed that in the last six months over 4000 contracts were lost due to COVID-19 restrictions and cancellations, and 50 percent of small to medium arts and cultural organisations would be operating on reserves or need to cease operations within the next 12 months.

It begs the question how many arts events will be filling the stages of the Government’s impressive infrastructure projects?

Pictured top: The masterplan for the Perth Cultural Centre includes a tree-lined promenade along James Street. Photo supplied

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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