The Sydney Symphony Orchestra returned a $1 million grant for the acoustic treatment of the International Convention Centre in October, the Sydney Morning Herald reported last night. The Orchestra had planned to use the ICC while the Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall is closed for refurbishment, but the grant embroiled the organisation in controversy when it emerged that Arts Minister Don Harwin had personally intervened to divert more than $400,000 of funds away from Round 2 of the Create NSW Arts & Cultural Projects funding round, against the recommendations of the independent panel, to fund the grant. The move created consternation in the arts industry, with the Executive Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts Esther Anatolitis demanding the funds be returned to the artists who missed out on funding. “Taxpayers will rightly be wondering why public funds earned by artists have not ended up where the transparent process of peer review intended,” she said at the time.

Sydney Symphony OrchestraDavid Robertson conducting the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Photo © Keith Saunders

The Sydney Morning Herald revealed that the Sydney Symphony Orchestra returned the grant money to the government in October, citing plans to relocate instead to the Sydney Town Hall instead of the ICC.

“In February 2018, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra submitted a business funding case to the NSW Government for an ICC Acoustic Treatment Capital Works Grant, to assist with the building and installing of acoustic equipment for planned Sydney Symphony Orchestra performances at the ICC Sydney between 2019 and 2022,” a spokesperson for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra told Limelight. “After the grant application was finalised and funded, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra took a new opportunity to partner with the City of Sydney and relocate to the Sydney Town Hall for this period.”

“As the ICC Acoustic Treatment Capital Works Grant was specific to acoustic treatments for the ICC Sydney, and consistent with the terms of the grant, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra refunded the $1M in full to Create NSW in October 2018,” the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for Minister Harwin told the Sydney Morning Herald that the funds had been returned to the Arts and Cultural Development Program, but that no decision has been made yet on how the money will be allocated.

“In a single off-hand gesture, the Arts Minister Don Harwin embarrassed the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and hurt many fledging arts organisations who were desperately hanging out for the grants to survive – just because he could,” Labor’s Arts Spokesperson Walt Secord told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Minister Harwin is also facing criticism from Labor and Anatolitis regarding this year’s funding, with Create NSW’s Annual Program Funding announcement unlikely to be made before January. “All I’m hearing right now is how concerned people are – especially given the last round’s funding delays were caused by political interference,” Anatolitis told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Update: “The funding went back to the ACDP fund and a decision on how the money will be allocated has not yet been made,” a spokesperson for Minister Harwin said. “The arts and culture sector has received more financial support under this government than any NSW state government in history.”