Questions have been asked over how the arts industry can have confidence in the NSW government's grants process after it rejected a Bega gallery's plans for redevelopment despite the recommendation of an expert panel.
On Tuesday, the ABC reported independent assessors had rated the Bega Valley Regional Gallery's (BVRG) $3.4million plans as their top rated project in the NSW Regional Cultural Fund, but it missed out. While there was $8million granted to the Mackay Park Aquatic, Arts and Cultural Centre in Batemans Bay.
The Bega Valley Shire Council representative on South East Arts' board, whose career was in the film industry, Cathy Griff said it was very disappointing and disheartening to hear the grants process was so flawed.
"With all that is put into the grants by the application and expert panel assessing it, then to find out it is apparently quite meaningless to the outcome, how does one keep faith?" she said.
"So much funding around the arts is from grants, more and more. [The arts] rely on these grants."
The decision followed comments made by Don Harwin, who was the NSW Arts Minister during the fund's selection process, in November 2018. After Bega's Spiral Gallery successfully applied for a $18,000 grant in round one of the fund, Mr Harwin said councils should come up with "quality projects" to be granted government investment.
"For regional cities and towns that have their act together and are putting up quality projects, they are getting funded," he said.
Bega council's director of community, environment and planning Alice Howe said it was pleasing to learn the BVRG had been ranked number one by the independent assessors and she was disappointed its application had not been successful, but she said these processes were always competitive.
"It's important to remember that behind every one of these 150 applications is an arts or cultural organisation or local council wanting the best for their community," she said.
Dr Howe said the feedback council had received from assessors had been generally positive all the way, "they encouraged our application at every step", but said there was always room for improvement.
When questioned on the matter at a media conference on Tuesday, Member for Bega Andrew Constance said the community wanted the Twyford Theatre project in Merimbula, and "their dollars were competing with other dollars around the state".
However, the Twyford Theatre project was granted $7.4million in 2018 by the NSW government from the sale of Snowy Hydro assets, not via the Regional Cultural Fund.
"There is nothing wrong with what's happened here. Governments get to make the decisions, not bureaucracies," he said.
"The Bega Valley Shire Council, my advice to them is you've got funding deeds a mile long with key infrastructure which you need to get on with, beyond your little gallery proposal.
"There's over $70million of roads that need to be sealed, water filtration plants that need to be built.
"Batemans Bay is getting the cultural centre, Bega Valley is getting Twyford Hall, [and] the council can continue to push its case for its gallery."
When approached for a response to those comments, Bega Valley Shire Mayor Sharon Tapscott said council had plenty of funding deeds it was looking to finalise and had already applied for a federal grant to fund the gallery's redevelopment.
Dr Howe confirmed council had an application with the federal government's Building Better Regions Fund for the gallery upgrade which had been informed by its previous submissions
"Imagine what a purpose-built space could achieve for our region, especially now - on the back of bushfires and COVID," she said.
"It will become a benchmark tourism facility that adds significantly to the visitor offerings in the region.
"In the absence of our gallery being open in recent times, we have moved this latest exhibition online - visits to our website are up 300 per cent."