25 August 2023

Black box theatre, art gallery and cafe proposed for new Griffith cultural hub

| Oliver Jacques
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Jenny Ellis points to map

Councillor Jenny Ellis explains a concept design plan for a new art gallery in town. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

An ambitious proposal to liven up Griffith’s entertainment scene would see a new art gallery built alongside a black box theatre, cafe and conference facilities, with debate now focused on where this new arts hub should be located.

In 2021 Griffith City Council pledged to build a new art gallery within five years, as it was felt the existing facility at 167 Banna Avenue was too small. Since that time, council has engaged external consultants to develop a Cultural Precinct Master Plan, which canvasses possible locations for and features of a new gallery, and considers how it could complement other cultural attractions – the library, theatre, visitors centre and museum (Pioneer Park).

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This draft plan is now on public display and awaiting feedback from residents.

At a community meeting on Monday (21 August), Councillor Jenny Ellis, who chairs a committee on the plan’s development, outlined the strengths and weaknesses of five possible locations for a new gallery – Griffith Showgrounds, Griffith Regional Theatre, the current gallery, next to Pioneer Park Museum and next to the visitors centre.

While all five options are still on the table, Cr Ellis said the two preferred locations were the Griffith Regional Theatre and next to the visitors centre, with feedback suggesting a new gallery should be on the main street – Banna Avenue. Additionally, both options allow for the sharing of staff, resources and different uses of the same facilities. The theatre choice is dubbed an ‘arts hub’ and a gallery next to the visitors centre is called a ‘tourist hub’.

A concept design plan for the arts hub outlines a new gallery built alongside the theatre in a four-floor building that also features a cafe, foyer, shop, bar and additional black box theatre – a smaller, square performance space with black walls and a flat floor.

A building plan

The concept design for having the art gallery next to the theatre. Photo: Draft Cultural Precinct Master Plan.

The tourism hub plan sees the art gallery located next to the visitors centre in a two-floor building that also includes a black box theatre, cafe, shop, foyer and sculpture court and garden.

A building plan

The concept design for having the art gallery next to the visitors centre. Photo: Draft Cultural Precinct Master Plan.

Both proposals would result in Griffith having one of the leading entertainment hubs in regional NSW.

Cr Ellis said there were positive and negative aspects to both designs.

“One will have advantages that the other doesn’t and vice versa … [but] both gallery designs are about three to four times the size of the current gallery,” she said.

Brian Sainty, chairman of the community-based Griffith Regional Art Gallery Group, was in no doubt about his organisation’s preference.

“We feel there is absolutely no benefit to have the art gallery connected to the theatre … if you have a great big monolithic building between the theatre and the council chambers, you can’t expand.”

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Cr Ellis stressed that no decisions had yet been made, and that community input over the next six weeks would guide the next steps in making the plan a reality.

So far, council has not committed any money to the building of a new gallery, beyond what’s been spent on the plan. Much will depend on council’s ability to secure future government grants on a project that could cost tens of millions of dollars.

“Another important point to note is our council is dissolved in September next year [when council elections are held]. The new council could come along and say, ‘We don’t care about an art gallery, just put all that aside,'” Mayor Doug Curran said.

The present council, though, is keen to move the proposal forward. Councillor Shari Blumer urged residents to have their say.

“Your role as community members is to fill in your individual thoughts, advocate to your local councillors if you would like to talk about what it is you’d like to see in the plan for the future … put it in writing so then it’s inarguable.”

Aside from new art gallery proposals, the draft master plan also includes other ideas to improve Griffith’s attractions – such as expanding the town’s library into the neighbouring ‘clock building’ and developing a new Wiradjuri education space at Pioneer Park Museum.

A submission on any aspect of the draft master plan can be made via the council website before 4 pm on 29 September. Council will make a decision on the next steps in November.

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