Margaret Olley.
Margaret Olley.

Olley Arts Centre won't go ahead

BARRING a last-minute mir- acle the dream of an iconic regional gallery in Lismore is no more – at least in the short-to-medium term.

Hopes to build the Margaret Olley Arts Centre depended on a $4 million grant from the Federal Government.

However, with most of the successful projects already announced and unsuccessful councils’ applications to be notified by Monday, it is unlikely the project will proceed.

“I believe that we have missed out,” Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell said yesterday. “It’s disappointing.”

While the council has yet to be officially informed of the Government’s decision, Cr Dowell said she had been doubtful of winning the grant after funding for other nearby council projects under the same infrastructure program were announced last week.

“We still have not received official notification, but the Government has until the end of May to do that,” she said, adding that she had told a small number of people within the Lismore arts community in recent days that it was highly unlikely the proposal would proceed.

Cr Dowell said she had not informed Margaret Olley because the artist was ill and she didn’t want to burden her.

The news was met by astonishment by much of the Northern Rivers arts community.

The need for a new regional art centre in Lismore has been discussed since 2002.

The initial dream, costing $18 million, was scaled down to a gallery with an $8 million price tag.

Under the proposal, which was carried by Cr Dowell’s casting vote at last December’s council meeting, council would stump up $3 million, Southern Cross University and other donors $1 million, but it all rested on the $4 million from Canberra.

Former director of the Lismore Regional Art Gallery from 1995 to 2002, Irena Hatfield (now Dobrijevich), who spent many years lobbying for a modern gallery, yesterday said she was ‘gob- smacked’ the Olley Centre would not be proceeding.

“Lismore is a city,” she said. “It has hospitals, a university, excellent sports fields and a great library. Why are visual artists the poor relations?”

Ms Dobrijevich said the current ‘temporary’ gallery in a converted bank in Molesworth Street had suffered from rising damp and other problems for years.

“I can’t believe the Government is spending all this money on all sorts of projects, but they can’t fund a decent modern art gallery,” she said.

Goonellabah artist Karla Dickens, who has recently returned from two successful shows in Sydney, was also dismayed by the Government’s apparent decision.

“I think it is a disgrace,” she said. “We have the highest concentration of artists in NSW and we need a decent regional gallery.

“It’s indicative of narrow-mindedness and the judgment that people who may be drawn to Lismore because of the gall- ery have no money.”

The Margaret Olley Art Centre has long been controversial, and often dominated the letters page of this newspaper.

During council’s recent community consultation over the now-dumped proposed rate rises, some community members argued that the money would be better spent on roads and other infrastructure projects.

However, Cr Dowell still hopes the gallery may one day rise from the dust.

“A report is going to NOROC that we write to the Minister urging him to continue with the (infrastructure grants) program,” she said.

“We have the development application ready to lodge when the next opportunity arises,” she said.

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