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Nervous arts companies seek Walsh Bay project reassurances

Bell Shakespeare launched its Infinite Space capital raising campaign in 2016 and had raised 70 per cent of its campaign target by the end of last year, welcoming on board two major corporate sponsors to secure its new home.

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“We are in conversation regularly with our donors to keep them apprised of the situation,” the company’s executive director Gill Perkins said. “Many have made multi-year pledges to this campaign and many have honoured these pledges in spite of the ongoing delays. The final push will be on hold until there is clarity from government.”

Those familiar with negotiations between potential tenants of the arts precinct have described a confusing process that was “broken” from the start, painting a picture of constant changes in specifications and design for the new premises.

For smaller companies, the longer the delays continue the more the financial costs mount.

Bell has been without a permanent home since its founding in 1990 and had been planning an electrifying launch for its new performance space and enhanced student engagement program.

"We are just unsure": Artistic director Peter Evans from the Bell Shakespeare Company.

“We are just unsure”: Artistic director Peter Evans from the Bell Shakespeare Company.Credit:Nick Moir

Australia’s flagship Shakespearean troupe will now reconcile itself to the fact that its first full-year season at Walsh Bay may not be until 2022.

Nearby residents have also urged the government to commit to Walsh Bay arts precinct “in full” so that the community “will not have to live with a half-baked refurbished wharf 4/5 and a boarded up, derelict, Pier 2/3”.

The Pier 2/3 had been promised to the people of New South Wales as a community facility since the Walsh Bay Act of 1999 permitted the redevelopment of the wharves and demolition of wharf 6/7, the group’s president John McInerney wrote in a letter to Mr Harwin and the NSW Premier.

Walsh Bay Arts and Commerce Chamber said the group was “monitoring developments with concern and disappointment” on behalf of the area’s arts companies and venues, with years of major construction projects, including the Barangaroo redevelopment, Barangaroo Metro station and now the arts precinct redevelopment, having a detrimental impact on its retail and hospitality members. “We feel for the situation our arts companies find themselves in.”

Bell’s artistic director, Peter Evans, said the uncertainty was debilitating.

“Part of my job is to be as optimistic as possible, and all the communications from the minister and the department says they are fighting hard for this but at the same time, I remember it was 1999 when Bob Carr first promised John Bell a permanent home.”

Pier 2/3 was to have provided Bell two rehearsal and performance studios, workshop and costume making facilities.

“We thought we’d be cutting a ribbon on our studio, what we are calling The Nutshell, next year,” Mr Evans said. “Half our company space, what we are calling The Seed, is about student engagement and digital – all sorts of things that were huge for the company – and then we were thinking 2021, and now we are just unsure.”

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