COMMENT: Bega Valley regional arts precinct falls foul of parochialism

President of the Twyford Hall committee Bill Deveril, Marta Dusseldorp, Ben Winspear and Frankie J Holden at a star-studded launch of Twyford Hall's redevelopment campaign.

President of the Twyford Hall committee Bill Deveril, Marta Dusseldorp, Ben Winspear and Frankie J Holden at a star-studded launch of Twyford Hall's redevelopment campaign.

Arts and culture has a tendency to regularly break down barriers, or even transcend them.

Not so it seems in the Bega Valley, where a community-led project to transform Twyford Hall into a professional theatre doesn’t have the full support of the region’s industry body.

At it most basic, this “artistic war of words” is another example of Bega v Merimbula parochialism.

There’s nothing wrong with going into bat for your home town – in fact it should be expected. But is travelling 20 minutes to see top-class acts in a dedicated performance space a drive too far?

Those closest to Merimbula’s Twyford Hall have had a long-held dream to transform it into a professional theatre with raked seating for 200, box office and proper acoustics.

After working in the background to source funding and develop plans over many years, a successful launch party was held on April 8 with star backing and plenty of money donated to the cause.

On the night, the Spectrum Theatre group kicked in with $40,000 while we understand more than a few people pledged $1000 each to have their name stamped on a chair in the proposed new theatre.

That $70,000 goes a long way towards the push for an indication from the community it supports the proposal. Support the Twyford committee can demonstrate when it applies for the state and federal funding needed to complete the work, estimated at between $6-7million.

However, South East Arts is saying efforts to build a regional arts precinct should be focussed on Bega and its new civic centre – interestingly also costing around $6.5m.

South East Arts general manager Andrew Gray said he recognised the Bega Valley Commemorative Civic Centre was not a performing arts centre, but he saw the potential for it to be used in contemporary theatre productions. He adds that while redeveloping Twyford Hall was not a bad idea, “it would be great if that energy and passion is not wasted on an idea maybe not as well developed as it could be”. 

Just to throw an additional grenade into this contentious issue is the amount being charged groups hiring out the new space. The Bega-based Women’s Resource Centre charity was quoted $1300 to hold a four-hour fundraiser – only getting a discount by agreeing to clean up the place itself.

Tell us your thoughts. Where are efforts best directed?

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