17 October 2023

Tourist hub v theatre hub - group pushes for new Griffith art gallery to be built next to visitor centre

| Oliver Jacques
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Group of old people in front of visitor centre

Lyndsay Sainty, Noel Hicks, Phoebe Harrison, Jan Barker, Leslie McCullough, Bob Barker, Andrew Craig, Lorna Craig, Rhonda Miranda and Brian Sainty all want the new art gallery built behind where they are standing. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Community group Griffith Regional Art Gallery Inc (GRAG) is pushing for a proposed new art gallery in town to be built alongside the Griffith Visitor Information Centre to create a “tourist hub” in what they call the “most prestigious” part of town.

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.

The council engaged an external consultant to canvass possible locations. According to the consultant’s final report, the two “preferred” sites for a new facility were: 1) alongside the town’s visitor centre or 2) next to Griffith Regional Theatre on Neville Place. The two proposed sites sit on opposite ends of the town’s main street, Banna Avenue.

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

GRAG, which is made up of art-loving residents who promote the gallery, is in no doubt about its preference. Ten group members who hold a combined 700-plus years of knowledge and experience gathered outside the visitor centre on 12 October to explain their case to Region.

“This block of land is the most prestigious block in Griffith,” former federal MP Noel Hicks said.

“If you want people to see an art gallery and enjoy art, you couldn’t get any better than this. You go up the other end of town, you’ve got all the industrial stuff around it. What good would it do there?”

GRAG chairman Brian Sainty wrote to the council to express his group’s view.

“GRAG held two public meetings and communicated with our 100 membership by email to ascertain specifically where the new gallery should be located … the visitor centre received the highest vote, of about 95 per cent,” he stated in his letter.

The proposed ”tourist hub” plan would see the art gallery located next to the visitor centre in a two-floor building that also includes a black box theatre, cafe, shop, foyer and sculpture court and garden. It would also be across the road from a new wine-tasting centre named Harvest HQ.

Art gallery building plan

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

Former councillor Phoebe Harrison said this location made it perfect for those visiting Griffith for the first time.

“It’s the ideal place because it’s where everybody comes into town. This is the first place they stop. They can see the art gallery at the same time, then walk up the street,” she said.

The alternative ”theatre hub” proposal would see the gallery built next to the theatre in a four-floor building that also features a cafe, foyer, shop, bar and additional black box theatre.

Mr Sainty called this option a “bad joke” and said he couldn’t understand why it was being considered at all.

“A Neville Place Gallery cannot be expanded in the future, has no room for landscaping and an outdoor sculpture area, and if built there will be an eyesore between two other large buildings,” he said.

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GRAG member Bob Barker agreed.

“There’s no room up there, they’d destroy two facilities because of bean counting,” he said.

Mr Sainty said the tourist hub, by contrast, would allow for expansion and landscaping and would be near “the action part of Griffith”.

Griffith City Council accepted submissions from community members on the new art gallery until the end of September 2023. Recommendations are expected to be put to councillors in November 2023.

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