REPRESENTATIVES of the Stockyard Gallery Committee of Management have called on South Gippsland Shire Council to assure the future of the gallery in Foster.
Committee member Walter Birkenbeil, supported by committee president Jan Bell and vice-president Annette Walker, made a presentation to Council last Wednesday, hours before Council adopted the Foster Community Infrastructure Plan.
Mr Birkenbeil suggested that the Plan provided more questions than answers and placed the gallery in a vulnerable position, leaving its future at its present site anything but assured.
Mr Birkenbeil began his presentation by outlining what he described as the gallery’s “long and proud history of serving the local and broader community”.
The gallery, he said, is run entirely by its 42 volunteers and administered by a Section 86 Committee. It was purpose built and remains open 10am to 4pm for 361 days a year at very little cost to the shire. It holds an average of 12 exhibitions per year, a mixture of local, state and interstate shows, and actively encourages and showcases the work of local artists to visitors to the region. Visitor numbers to the gallery are very high, including 1682 for the first three months of this year.
The gallery has 173 artists and crafts people supplying goods to the shop, and forms an importance place for arts-minded people to meet and share ideas. Community groups are strong users of the gallery, as are school children and indigenous artists.
“The gallery exposes the people of the community to a world beyond our paddocks and shores,” said Mr Birkenbeil. “Yes, we do provide an exhibition space, but the gallery does more than simply exhibit…We are active participants in and contributors to the life of this community.”
Mr Birkenbeil expressed concern that the future proposed for Stockyard Gallery in the Infrastructure Plan was vague. Although the Plan acknowledges there is a lack of space in the building, it offers no clear alternative for the gallery or the library, other than a reference to a vacant supermarket site in 20 years.
“We believe commitment to a gallery should be essential to any plan…If it is to be an adversarial event, the gallery will most likely lose. We do not have the infrastructure of Parks Victoria, West Gippsland Regional Library Corporation nor the shire to fight our case,” said Mr Birkenbeil.
“The plan before Council has the potential to stifle our activities, at a time in our district’s history where it couldn’t be more vital to the needs of our community…At present we have a full calendar for 2017 and are already taking bookings for 2018. How are we to determine future infrastructure or other needs when the plan contains references to “alternative site” options?”
Cr Kieran Kennedy asked the shire’s director of development services, Bryan Sword, to comment on the mention of alternative site options in the Plan. Mr Sword said that all the tenants of the building were important. He reassured the committee that the gallery had a future and said they would be consulted about any plans for the building.
The mayor, Cr Bob Newton, recalled how Foster Rotary Club had made a presentation to Council several years ago when lack of space was beginning to be a problem. Rotary argued the importance of securing the major tenants in order to keep Parks Victoria in Foster. As a result, PV was allowed to remain in the building and the rent it paid allowed the building to be extended.
Cr Andrew McEwen said that art and art activities were important and he advocated moving Parks Victoria (he didn’t say where to) rather than the gallery or library. He said he strongly supported the development of a community hub, which is one of the recommendations of the Infrastructure Plan. The timeline for this is 2030.
Cr Mohya Davies recommended that the gallery committee do some strategic planning. She suggested that they could apply for a grant for up to $10,000 to assist them.
“I believe that Council feels that the gallery and the library are a natural fit in that position, along with the Visitor Information Centre,” she said.