November 14, 2019
Source: The Daily Telegraph
Author: Clarissa Bye
Date: 13 November 2019
Sydney’s live music and theatre scene is in a “perilous” state, with venues closing, performers fleeing interstate and the city losing hundreds of millions in lost revenue.
Our city is being smashed by both Brisbane and Melbourne, where live performances are booming.
A swamp of red tape and inertia from the Berejiklian government has strangled a lot of venues and city planners argue it is time the government takes concrete steps to fix the problem.
In the past year alone at least two NSW parliamentary inquiries have also warned the government about a “crisis” in the city’s live venue industry, saying reforms are urgently needed.
The Western Sydney Business Chamber estimates the state has lost “hundreds of millions”.
Executive director David Borger points to the fact that Victorians bought almost twice the number of theatre tickets last year than in NSW, where theatre sales fell by 39 per cent.
Sydneysiders wanting to see shows like Harry Potter And The Cursed Child or the latest Broadway sensation Come From Away had to trek down to Melbourne, Mr Borger said.
Overall, Victorian revenue from live performances rose by 45.3pc over the past year and attendance jumped up by 36 per cent, figures from peak industry body Live Performance Australia show.
In Queensland revenues were up by 46 per cent and attendances rose 27 per cent.
Here in NSW, revenue rose by 16 per cent and attendance rose a measly 13.5 per cent – driven mostly by festivals such as Splendour in the Grass
“Melbourne and Brisbane are beating us because they take this issue seriously,” Mr Borger said.
“When they have an old theatre building that’s falling apart they work with the operators to get the thing refurbed and open again. There’s a lack of theatre space in NSW. Many of our existing venues are closed or threatened with closure.”
He points to the landmark Roxy Theatre in Parramatta that could be given a new lease of life as a live performance space if the NSW government helped out with a rescue package.
“Instead the future of such an iconic building is sadly limited to serving beer and cocktails in the forecourt,” he said.
He said at least 176 venues had closed in recent years, including the Sydney Entertainment Centre, which has yet to be replaced.
“Those venues which remain open regularly cite compliance costs as making their venture prohibitively expensive,” Mr Borger said.
“Live music has dried up in Sydney. We have no plan for it. We need a plan — a ‘fun plan’.”
Keep Sydney Open spokesman Tyson Koh said the NSW government had neglected Sydney’s arts and music sectors.
“The Victorian government invests 20 times more in contemporary music than we do, reaping the economic and cultural benefits as a result,” he said.
“We need to match that investment, start believing in our city again and give grassroots venues and communities the space they need to create art that we can all enjoy.
“Melbourne and Brisbane don’t have Sydney’s beauty but cities need a strong cultural offering round the clock if they are to retain talent and compete with the rest of the world.”
Mr Borger says there’s a raft of concrete steps the government could take to help fix the problem, including removing restrictions on local councils from partnering with the private sector to develop new spaces.
It should also give height concessions for new developments which provide new theatre spaces and set up a “transferable development rights” system to allow for the trading of heritage and airspace rights above historic buildings, which could be used in other locations.
Over the next decade the population of Western Sydney’s town centres will surge past three million, requiring live venues at town centres at Liverpool, Campbelltown, Penrith, Blacktown and Parramatta.
“I do give the thumbs up to an amazing performing arts centre at Rooty Hill, where West HQ Limited is building a $100 million dollar Sydney Coliseum Theatre — good on them,” Mr Borger said.
The parliamentary inquiries have recommended the government slash red tape, appoint a Night Time Mayor or tsar, put together a comprehensive plan and consider creating a Minister for Music, the Arts and Culture in place of the Minister for the Arts.
Committee for Sydney spokesman James Hulme said Sydney’s night time events had “stagnated” compared to Melbourne and Brisbane.
“As a priority, we want to see NSW Government appoint a Minister for the Night Time Economy, who would be charged with delivering a whole-of-government strategy,” he said. “This must include removing regulations that stifle night time activities like live music and outdoor dining, as well as making it more difficult to open new venues.
“Sydney also needs far more smaller venues to help support and grow emerging talent, including more rehearsal space from the musicians, artists and actors of the future.”