Community support for Arts Margaret River has begun to gain momentum, with a proposed takeover of the Margaret River HEART complex by the Augusta Margaret River Shire concerning a number of community members.
Arts Margaret River General Manager Andrew Frith put the call out to hundreds of Arts Margaret River volunteers and supporters this week, with a council meeting on August 28 expected to decide the future of the venue's management structure.
Supporters of the cause launched a petition on Tuesday which garnered nearly 200 signatures overnight.
"We are very concerned at the impact this could have on both our organisation and on our community," Mr Frith said. "We also fear that this could spell the end of Arts Margaret River as we know it."
Mr Frith said the 400-strong ArtsMR volunteer team would not flourish as it has under their management.
"A Shire-run venue will not have the capability of attracting the same level of grant funding or volunteers that we have achieved.
"We cannot see how our community cinema would continue under a Shire run model as the costs would be prohibitive without volunteers."
The Shire responded to the outcry, saying the scope of managing HEART far exceeded the previous venue.
"Margaret River HEART is a significantly different venue in size, scale, capacity and service mix to the 'old' cultural centre," a Shire spokesperson told the Mail.
"The new venue will need to be resourced appropriately to meet the community's expectations of service levels associated with a new state of the art facility, whilst developing sustainable revenue streams to help offset the centres operating costs.
"It is the Shire's clear intention that service delivery at the venue is expanded, and that the mix of services offered to the community will be changed and adapted, noting the significant inclusion of business and conferencing events which were not offered at the previous Cultural Centre. Volunteers will always be a vital part of HEART activities."
Mr Frith said the loss of the non profit organisation would have a huge impact on the community.
"Arts Margaret River has six years proven experience of managing the venue and the loss of expertise and value provided to this community would be profound," he said.
Arts Margaret River have a current contract with the Shire as temporary venue managers which expires in December 2019 and have always been fully aware there was no guarantee of managing the new, larger HEART venue beyond that date...AMR Shire spokesperson
"The model currently employed for the operation of this venue is both proven and highly regarded, it is also widely acknowledged as the most economically sustainable, providing the best possible value to our rate paying community."
The Shire said it expected to assess three possible management models for the venue at the meeting on August 28 - A Shire managed model with provision for an annual Community Culture & Arts Grant program to support activation of HEART via a community driven program of culture and arts; a Shire managed model with provision to outsource Culture and Arts Programming, and a fully outsourced management model.
"Arts Margaret River have a current contract with the Shire as temporary venue managers which expires in December 2019 and have always been fully aware there was no guarantee of managing the new, larger HEART venue beyond that date, so it is our understanding they have considered a range of business models to ensure sustainability for their organisation depending on the outcome of the review," the spokesperson said.
"Until such time that Council offers a resolution on the item regarding the future Governance and Management of the HEART venue, the shire cannot provide further comment."
The Shire said the second stage of the venue, including the larger theatre, was complete but not yet ready for public use.
"Work on the stage area and acoustic panels are still to be completed and hence the building is not ready for public use," the Shire spokesperson said. "The builders are now engaged in rectifying defects and ensuring all remaining work is completed.
"The Shire is also working through its obligation to complete all compliance requirements prior to handover of the building to the owner (Shire) and then finally onto the building occupant."
A performance at the HEART studio space on Friday night was initially planned for the larger theatre venue, which remains closed to the public and Arts Margaret River staff.
As Margaret River's largest and most active community theatre group, we are keen to see a well managed, affordable and busy venue that allows groups like ours embrace the intended purpose of the HEART.Margaret River Theatre Group
Patrons watched the Sapphires musical show with a less than ideal view particularly from the back rows, with a last minute decision to perform the show on the studio floor due to the unsuitability of the temporary stage.
The tiered retractable seating remains unusable due to safety issues.
Arts Margaret River issued an apology and offered refunds to ticketholders via email on Friday.
The Shire said Arts MR were never guaranteed occupancy in time for the show, and that discussions were being held with organisers of upcoming events.
CinefestOZ Film Festival, the Margaret River Business Awards and the inaugural West Australian Guitar Festival have all been slated for the new venue.
"The Shire has been transparent with the current licensee (Arts MR) that until such time that actual occupancy is given to the licensee, events cannot be guaranteed to proceed at Separable Portion Two (SP2).
"As such - it is a risk for the licensee to undertake any bookings in advance for events occurring in SP2.
"The Shire has been made aware of some major bookings undertaken by the current licensee for SP2 and has been in direct contact with Cinefest Oz and Strings Attached Festival organisers."
The Margaret River Theatre Group issued a statement in support of Arts Margaret River, saying the organisation provided a vital conduit between the Shire and the community.
"The MRTG has been eagerly awaiting the completion and opening of the HEART complex and its members are enthusiastic about producing quality local entertainment within the venue," said MRTG President Jaime Werren.
"The MRTG is concerned that proposed management plans could see the experienced and knowledgeable members of ArtsMR not involved in the ongoing management of the HEART.
"As Margaret River's largest and most active community theatre group, we are keen to see a well managed, affordable and busy venue that allows groups like ours embrace the intended purpose of the HEART.
"We believe that ArtsMR have the personnel, existing relationships and connection with the community to achieve this goal."
Have your say
Should the Shire take over management of HEART? What would you like to see happening at the venue? Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org