Adelaide Festival Centre receives $6 million birthday present

Over the weekend, the Adelaide Festival Centre commemorated its fortieth anniversary. Mirroring the 1973 inauguration, the celebration featured the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra performing Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 and the world premiere of Fanfare Festiva – a fanfare for the next 40 years by Adelaide composer Graeme Koehne.

Adelaide Festival Centre
Adelaide Festival Centre. Image: supplied

Adelaide was home to the nation’s first multi purpose performing arts centre, and it was a triumph of the time. It beat Sydney’s Opera House by four months, and about a tenth of the cost.

Forty years on and the venue has been described by producer John Frost as looking “very, very tired”, and an Ernst and Young report has stated that “the AFC is regarded as the most poorly maintained and resourced of the capital city arts centres”.

The Adelaide Festival Centre is the heart of the city’s arts community and a critical component of the riverbank precinct, yet until recently little has been mentioned of its redevelopment and long-term outlook.

Earlier this week, Premier Jay Weatherill pledged $6 million towards critical infrastructure works at the Centre and its surrounding precinct. The funding will be spent on waterproofing, concrete repair, and a fit out of administrative facilities. Good news for the ailing Centre, but a far cry from the reported $400 million redevelopment that is required.

An anonymous Adelaide Festival Centre source last night claimed that the proposal for the redevelopment had long awaited approval, with bureaucratic ambivalence and a tough economy to blame.

“The Centre, especially backstage, is now so old and outdated; a small redevelopment won’t cut it. The thing is the Centre was originally built in such a rush, they may as well just demolish the whole thing and rebuild it.”

“Management have looked into a combination of private and public funding but there isn’t the capacity for it. Private philanthropy is just not as common here as it is in the Eastern States and America.”

It is a sad reality, especially when much has been spent on other areas of the riverbank precinct. There has been a huge investment in the Adelaide Oval upgrade alone, despite the fact that the AFC holds greater patronage than the football and cricket combined.

Political and arts bigwigs herald the Centre as an arts figurehead; leading cultural engagement, exchange, education and innovation. Beyond such equivocation, the Centre and Adelaide’s other fine arts organisations have long been neglected.

Amongst these institutions, the fantastic Performing Arts Collection is poorly housed and displayed, and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (rated the nation’s second best) still does not have a concert hall to call home.

Under Douglas Gautier CEO & Artistic Director, the AFC has thrived – patronage is high, and the venues are rarely dark. But without proper investment, its capacity to maintain a place in Australia’s competitive arts landscape is limited.

A $6 million cosmetic upgrade is merely the tip of the iceberg for the Adelaide Festival Centre. In 1973, popular demand spawned the nation’s first cultural and arts hub, but as Douglas Gautier states, it is “time to galvanise plans and vision for the decades ahead”.

Ben Nielsen

Ben Nielsen is an Adelaide based writer. He has contributed to a variety of publications including artsHub, Dandy Magazine, and the Adelaide* magazine.

Ben Nielsen

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