THE state government has slashed its financial support for Renew Newcastle, jeopardising the arts initiative that is credited with reinvigorating the city centre by breathing life into dozens of empty buildings.
Arts NSW has knocked back the request for $70,000 in annual funding, agreeing instead to provide $30,000.
This is a cut from the $50,000 a year that has typically gone to the organisation.
Renew Newcastle has received international acclaim for its initiative to encourage artists, cultural projects, budding entrepreneurs and community groups to set up in vacant buildings.
Only this week, seven boutiques and showcases opened in the former David Jones building, renamed The Emporium.
Renew founder Marcus Westbury said the funding cut could spell the end for the program, which had been a catalyst for change.
‘‘It will make it very hard for us to continue,’’ Mr Westbury said.
‘‘The timing is really difficult when we’ve just opened up David Jones ... and have all of this momentum at the moment. It really will curtail that.’’
Renew Newcastle got the bad news late on Thursday from Arts NSW, its main funding source.
‘‘There are more than 50 buildings in Newcastle that were vacant when we started working on them less than four years ago,’’ Mr Westbury said.
‘‘There are 39 projects currently running in what would otherwise be empty buildings ... and then there’s the legacy of all the places we’ve been working in.
‘‘There is a danger that that activity will disappear from the parts of town that we’re already working in, but also a danger that we will lose any ability to expand and continue to do new projects and bring new parts of the city back to life.’’
Newcastle MP Tim Owen said he had written yesterday to Arts Minister George Souris seeking an explanation.
‘‘I know money is tight, but these guys do a great job,’’ Mr Owen said.
Mr Souris said an independent panel assessed the applications.
An Arts NSW spokeswoman said the panel consisted of industry peers, who assessed applications against published criteria.
‘‘Each year we receive many more applications than can be funded,’’ she said.
‘‘Some organisations have received less than requested and some organisations funded in 2012 will not be funded in 2013.’’
The panel assessed 109 applications seeking a total of $6.9million.
It recommended funding for 74 applications totalling $3.2million, a success rate of 68per cent.
‘‘If there’s anything that represents better value out of that budget I’d love to know what it is,’’ Mr Westbury said.
Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Kristen Keegan said Renew Newcastle was ‘‘a world-leading initiative’’ that had been replicated across the country.
‘‘We would be very concerned if they were to lose their funding.’’
Labor’s Hunter spokeswoman, Linda Burney, called on Mr Souris to step in and reverse ‘‘this short-sighted decision’’ immediately.
‘‘At a time when the O’Farrell Government is already cutting funding for arts courses at Newcastle TAFE, this is another big blow for the local arts community and the people of Newcastle,’’ Ms Burney said.