EDITORIAL: City gets renewed neglect

THE NSW government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the arts this year, but as usual it’s keeping most of the money in Sydney.

Barry O’Farrell’s Coalition won’t provide the $7million Novocastrians had asked for as a contribution to the redevelopment of Newcastle Art Gallery, even though Newcastle City Council and the federal government have each pledged that amount. 

And now, to rub salt into the wound, the government has even slashed the paltry funding it was providing to the much-lauded Renew Newcastle project.

The project, which has been helping to invigorate the city by subsidising creative uses for empty and neglected buildings, has typically received $50,000 in annual funding. Its latest request was for $70,000 but the government will only provide $30,000, dramatically diminishing the effectiveness of the project.

It frankly beggars belief that a region as important as the Hunter, with approximately 10per cent of the state’s population and furnishing a great deal of its productive capability, should be fobbed off in this way. The state arts allocation to the Hunter falls so far short of a fair cut that people in the region could be excused for wondering whether having one of their own MPs in charge of the arts portfolio is an advantage or a disadvantage.

Arts minister and Upper Hunter National Party MP George Souris seems happy enough to issue press releases about arts spending when it suits him, but his only response to the storm of complaint about the Hunter’s miserable treatment is to say the decisions are made by independent panels.

Renew Newcastle is a relatively small-scale initiative, but the benefits from that small-scale spending are disproportionate. Without overstating the case, it has moved into a void in Hunter Street left by departing retailers, creating a buzz that has helped maintain visitor interest in the city during an extremely difficult time.

The fact that a number of overseas cities have expressed interest in using the scheme as a template for similar projects of their own should have told the state government that Renew Newcastle was worth more than token support. 

The State Member for Newcastle, Tim Owen, must be mortified at the message this myopic government decision sends to voters already becoming restless and impatient about the O’Farrell government and its repeated promises of a new and better deal for his city. 

It’s a message that will be amplified greatly if the insult remains unaddressed by the government.

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