Sydney’s Carriageworks has announced that it is being placed into voluntary administration as the COVID-19 crisis claims its largest arts scalp to date.

It is an ominous sign for the arts industry, which is reeling under the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite repeated calls from arts leaders for more support from the Federal Government to ensure that the arts industry survives, only $27 million has been allocated so far – a far cry from the $850 million live performance and support package that industry peak body Live Performance Australia called for in March.

Carriageworks, at the iconic converted railway yards in Redfern, is Australia’s largest multi-arts centre presenting the work of hundreds of artists each year as well as providing a much-needed hub for several major arts festivals. “With great sadness, the Board of Carriageworks today determined that it had no choice but to appoint Voluntary Administrators to its corporate entity, Carriageworks Limited,” said the official press statement, released yesterday evening.

Despite its substantial turnover, the organisation can only rely on government funding for 25 percent of its income, with on-site events and programs generating the remaining 75 percent. With one of its partner companies, Sydney Chamber Opera, about to present its latest program of new work in March, Carriageworks then hoped to present Sydney Writers’ Festival, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, and Semi Permanent, a design event aligned with VIVID Sydney. However, with all these activities currently cancelled because of the restrictions on public gatherings due to the COVID-19, the venue has suffered what it describes as “an irreparable loss of income”.

Carriageworks

“Following the earlier loss of shifts for casual staff, in early-April we stood down almost half of our core staff and asked those remaining to move to a three-day week,” said Carriageworks CEO Blair French, explaining how the organisation had been focussing on “essential work only” in an attempt to find a way through the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown.

When Carriageworks opened in 2007 it swiftly overcame what was perceived as an awkward, out of the way location in Sydney’s Redfern. With the support of the NSW and Federal Governments, as well as partners and donors, it proved an artistic success story, rapidly becoming the coolest of arts venues and a Sydney institution that attracted one million visitors a year, with up to 5000 people flocking every Saturday to the Carriageworks Farmers Market.

Companies who regularly present work at Carriageworks include Sydney Chamber Opera, Sydney Dance Company, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Festival, Sydney Writers’ Festival, Synergy, Bangarra, Back to back Theatre, the Keir Choreographic Competition, VIVID, Art Month Sydney, Force Majeure, and numerous international touring shows.

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“The Carriageworks Board regret that this action has had to be taken,” said French. “They are mindful of the impact of this situation upon independent artists and partner companies across the performing and visual arts at a time when the effects of COVID-19 related closures have made this sector so vulnerable. The Board remain hopeful that the Carriageworks facility will be able re-open to artists and community alike once NSW emerges from the effects of the current pandemic.”

KPMG’s Phil Quinlan and Morgan Kelly have been appointed Voluntary Administrators of Carriageworks Limited. “We will be working closely with the Carriageworks executive and its stakeholders to try and secure the future of Australia’s largest multi-arts precinct,” said Quinlan, suggesting that all may not be lost. “We will be exploring the possibility of a Deed of Company Arrangement to stabilise Carriageworks’ financial position and allow it to continue its important role for Australian arts and culture. All options are on the table for consideration.”