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Byron Shire
August 18, 2022

Ballina parts ways with Arts Northern Rivers

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A discussion about funding priorities for the next year became a debate about local versus regional arts funding at the last Ballina Shire Council meeting.

Cr Sharon Parry questioned the wisdom of withdrawing Ballina’s ongoing support for the peak regional arts body Arts Northern Rivers, with over $23,000/year now to be redirected to staff and programs at Ballina’s Northern Rivers Community Gallery (NRCG).

She said although the decision had already been made, the cost/benefit analysis had not been done.

GM Paul Hickey responded by saying ‘the recommendation from the people involved in the galley was the employment of additional staff was a higher priority, a better investment than the contribution to Arts Northern Rivers.’

Cr Phillip Meehan concurred, saying a quarter of a million dollars to Arts Northern Rivers over ten years did not represent ‘value for money’. Although he acknowledged the peak body was a valuable entity, Cr Meehan said ‘we need to get the best bang for buck for our community’.

Arts Northern RiversCr Eoin Johnston said his impression was that Arts Northern Rivers ‘did some great things’ but was very Lismore-centric and ‘they need all the cultural things they can get hold of’.

Local or regional?

Cr Jeff Johnson said that the original decision to switch the funding had been supported because it came from Ballina council staff, but new information had since emerged.

‘It’s not helpful for regional organisations when individual member councils withdraw funding,’ he said. ‘It has the potential to put the whole organisation and their initiatives at risk.

Cr Jeff Johnson. Photo David Lowe.

‘If there is the feeling that there’s too much of a Lismore focus, well, let’s restore the funding and make those concerns known and and try and get additional regional programs,’ said Cr Johnson.

He argued that the funding should be restored for at least another year, noting that ‘the arts is a pretty important area for employment, mental health and social connectivity – it ticks lots of boxes. I think we should do more in this area,’ he said.

Ballina Council staff member Matt Wood responded by saying the gallery was not able to offer the programs it once did, and there was no other obvious source of funds.

Cr Sharon Cadwallader supported the staff position, saying there was little to show for a cumulative investment from Ballina into Arts Northern Rivers of $226,000.

Cr Parry responded by saying the Northern Rivers Community Gallery needed to change its name if it was going to become purely Ballina-centric, with no links to the wider region, but a motion to maintain Ballina Council’s funding for Arts Northern Rivers was eventually lost, with only Crs Parry and Johnson in support.

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