Theatre & Arts Space in Sydney deemed “too dangerous”- a letter.

Archway 1 Founders Stefan von Reiche and Rachel Jordan

After many years of founding artist-run initiatives, developing and initiating many performing and visual arts-based events in Sydney Australia, we find it regrettable and baffling that we would be on the receiving end, of shameless, dishonest and highly prejudicial action against us, by The City of Sydney.

In our experience, they the council, have shown themselves to be an administration of power-hungry bureaucrats with much political bias.  As a council, they went against their own “Cultural Policy” and ‘Strategic Principles’ despite a petition and push from over 2,000 Sydney residents. The people of Sydney were ignored! Over 2,000 people fought very hard, for over six months, to keep our (11 year old) artist run initiative, from being compromised, as it has been.

Some of the councilors by their own admission, conceded they had “no power” to help us because of the “politics” involved and that the CEO’s aggressive push, along with her bureaucratic administrators, thwarted any consideration for our arts initiative. If you have followed our journey in battling this council to date, does it not make you wonder, who is really running things in the City of Sydney council? And why couldn’t the support of 2,000 Sydney residents make a difference?

The acting mayor, Clover Moore, willfully failed to engage with us on any level. Her dismissive attitude, demonstrated that we were obviously not worth her time, or that of her administration, which is surprising conduct from a purported ‘supporter’ of the arts. Indicative of her administration’s dealings with us, the City of Sydney council, sneakily broke into and entered our rented council premises at 6:30am on the 29th January and locked us out, despite our vacating deadline of the 1st February.

Our lawyer at the time, was waiting to hear back from their legal department about questions he had posed about an agreement they wanted us to adhere to, in order to continue tenancy, until the proposed development began in the parklands, which have still yet to begin. We believe that they never planned for us to continue our tenancy and that the whole thing was an exercise to make it appear as though we had options, so that perhaps the community could be fooled into thinking the council was making attempts to assist us.

It is often seen by the unincorporated arts groups and community-based initiatives like ours, that in the Council’s public relations facade, the arts are encouraged alongside major urban developments, while the reality of the funding of these projects, are very conditional and if you do not fit a certain criteria, you are strewn on the heap of cultural rubble that now litters the gentrified settlements of a transposed Sydney…

It was mentioned to us by many supporters, that our last production at The Archway 1 Theatre Company for example, ‘A Sunday Morning in the South’ written by African American writer and activist Georgia Douglas Johnson, may have been the catalyst for the immediate and aggressive effort by Council to shut us down. The subject of the play, was about white supremacy in America. Is it a coincidence that we were hurriedly shut down one week before the end of that production? Is it coincidence that the very structure we rented for 11 years, is now considered a “fire hazard” and yet the same structure is still housing tenants directly next door and in neighbouring archways and yet no campaign to shut these community groups and commercial businesses has come about? Different strokes for different folks…

We have seen this type of discrimination many times, always conveniently disguised as something else, but this time many people in the community conveyed that they believed our arts initiative was attacked, harassed, heavily undermined legally and ethically, because of what racial group we, the founders of Archway 1 Theatre Company and Arts Studio, belong to. And that speaks volumes, particularly when its a conclusion from some of our more critical supporters and commentators. A Sunday morning in Sydney.

There is no denying that the “conservatives” are prevalent within Sydney’s status quo, from community groups, councils, to the arts industry itself. We received no support from fellow Sydney theatre companies, high-profile actors, women’s groups for example, given that our last season was a focus on women playwrights and directors. Our “industry” failed to get behind us. The silence surprised our community, but not us. Our supporters came from local residents, local businesses, fellow artists, creatives, actors, families, active media personnel, academics and many from the film industry. Despite this, we are nonetheless grateful that so many people believed in us and what Archway 1 was about. It was humbling to have the community value our work and to see it as a positive asset and cultural contribution.

It took us the last few months since our lockout from the space, (our items are still inside) to assess our priorities. Do we stay in a city whose infrastructure doesn’t support us and that has shown no inclination in supporting us? How can we trust a council that is seemingly out of touch and unprincipled? Should we stop our operations all together and move onto bigger, less property dependent projects? Or perhaps we should relocate to another city altogether, and leave Sydney to its big, property development projects, replete with its selective cultural establishments?

We need a new Sydney City Council! We need people with foresight and consideration of all people, to count as contributors to the city of Sydney, regardless of their ethnic background for example. We need representatives who are aware and sensitive to the realities and challenges of arts practice from a grass roots level, not just from quantitative surveys! We need people who are actually in touch with their communities, not pretending to be. We need people who respect the requests and pleas of a community, not to pander to parochial and outdated ideas from a minority of well-heeled and well-connected coalitions and ‘societies’, for what the people are asking for.

We need to take back our ability to make decisions for the world we want to live in, the community we want to be a part of and not leave that in the hands of highly paid bureaucrats, that smirk in our face with indifference while vigorously working to eliminate any opposition to them! Do we really want to continue allowing an administration that fought to destroy a community-run arts initiative?

The up and coming City of Sydney council election, is an opportunity for Sydney people to make their vote count for something. Remember how you fought for us as a community inspired initiative and why, before you cast your vote. It’s time for new fresh faces in the city council! Let’s vote for a new enlightened administration.

One thing is for sure, we miss the community very much!  We miss the many people we’ve met over the years, the people who gave of their time, of their patronage, of their resources, of their talent, their activism and love.

On behalf of the Archway 1 team, we want to thank every supporter for their contribution. Thank you for supporting our efforts and for sharing in our vision, in helping to promote the idea of keeping the Archway beneath the viaducts and for it to hopefully have become, like other great cultural/ social initiatives and tourist attractions, as exemplified in other world-leading, culturally diverse  centres like New York, Paris, London and Berlin and their use of viaducts. Sadly such an idea, seemed too foreign and “dangerous” for the current administration. It would have enriched the community in more ways than one, while providing Sydney and its creatives with another opportunity to show off its history, its architecture, its talent.

We can be proud in the fact that we have created so much to contribute to the soul of our city and we have been shown enormous support from the people of Sydney who acknowledged our hard work, dedication and professionalism. This support above all else, has been a shining testament to our faith in the goodness of community, the people of Sydney! Thank you, you have been incredible supporters of all things Archway 1 and we have a lot of love for you!
Archway 1 Team

 

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