Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Do we really need a Cultural Precinct?

The biggest concern for most people when asked about their views on the Cultural Precinct is that it is too expensive. The second is that it is considered a 'huge white elephant' monument to Val. The third is that we have so many local suburban projects waiting for the green light and this one appears to be taking precedence over them.

All valid points.

Lets start with the cost. $240 million is a huge amount of money in anyone's language. It seems astronomical to most and people are rightly asking why we need something that big, that comprehensive and that expensive.

The cost is in line with most developments of this scale and is hugely over-priced. As are our houses and our business developments all over the country. The price of steel alone has leapt higher by monstrous proportions in recent years and that's without the added costs of plumbing, electrical work etc also rising.

When I was a child, the job of a builder was not a sought after career choice. Plumbers and electricians faired marginally better but it was still considered the choice for those who couldn't get into University or didn't have the 'people skills' for retail or hospitality. Now, the building trades are earning almost the same as our doctors and the prices for any small amount of work carried out by them is beyond the reach of most of us. Hence the rise in DIY accidents and the huge success of Bunnings. I am not judging the industry, it's not their fault that they are now worth a fortune, more power to them. Gaining a trade has never been a walk in the park and they probably deserve to reap some real rewards for all their hard work.

The size of the building in question is required if it is to become the hub of the cultural and artistic communities of Cairns. If we want a building that can be adjusted inside to cater for various sized performances (and we do) then we need a building large enough to support that. I have stated many times which design elements I would prefer and am hoping the architects are fairly like-minded and I still feel that the retail outlets are unnecessary and am concerned that the restaurants considered will be detrimental to 'eat street' (Shields Street). A better design can lower the cost slightly, while still giving us the precinct we need now and will need in the future.

As for it being 'Aunty Val's' pet project, it's probably fair to say that it is. She has long been associated with the artistic community in Cairns and has always been proud of that involvement. Before being crowned Mayor she was active in the arts and has remained so throughout the few years she has held her new role. Personally, I don't really care why we are now looking at this as a real possibility for the region, every Mayor has a pet project and a direction they want Cairns to head in, that's why we vote them in (or out). At least this project is one that addresses the very real problems we are having in the city with the bland, pasty persona it currently enjoys.

Then there are those who want the footpaths, the Sugarworld precinct, the other basic amenities and promised projects built long before we talk of building a giant monument to the arts. Fair enough. It's true that the suburbs are crying out for their facilities to be upgraded and in the southern corridor.....just a start would be good at this point. The Edmonton area was promised an Edmonton Town Centre, a Leisure Centre and the Sugarworld fix-up and has seen no progress at all in any of these, barring of course the half-hearted attempt at community consultation for the slide re-build. Is it any wonder that the residents of this area are annoyed that this Precinct, in the heart of the city, that most say they will rarely frequent, is taking precedence over their own local issues?

Do we really need the Cultural Precinct? Yes we do. Culture and the Arts are the soul of any community and the soul needs to be nurtured. The heart is the people that live in the community and the arteries are the amenities that keep us functioning within our own suburbs while keeping us connected to the entire region. All of these things need to be protected, nurtured and supported by our Regional Council and more precisely, by our local Councillors.

Culture is a word that encapsulates all of us in some way or another. Some are immersed in the fishing culture of Cairns, some in the sporting culture and many are part of the indigenous cultures of the area. While the fishing and sporting culture's have many and varied facilities to practice, revel and gather, the Indigenous cultures do not. At least not in a space that is available to all. They deserve a place that celebrates them and encourages them to share and interact.

The Arts is also a misunderstood umbrella word. It encompasses media, traditional art, performance art, comedy, ballet, school productions, plays, music and pretty much anything else you can think of that is creative in some way.

The Civic Theatre is archaic, has no wheelchair access, is falling apart and is much too small to support the population as it stands, never mind the increases in population forecast for us. You may only go there once a year, you may go for school productions, local productions (if you haven't seen 'The Man In the Pinstripe Suit' yet, you really should), maybe the Melbourne Comedy Festival Touring Road Show, the Queensland Ballet (good luck with that one as they can't fit on the stage)or perhaps you are one of those with very small children and Hi5, Wombat Stew and Dorothy the Dinosaur are more your cup of tea. Regardless of your preference, it must be acknowledged that the facility is widely used and in it's current form is a disgrace to the region.

The local roads, footpaths and facilities have equal billing with the Cultural Precinct in my mind. We should not have to choose between keeping the arteries going or nurturing the soul. I firmly believe that with careful planning and budgeting, we can have it all. Indeed we deserve to have it all. The entire community deserves the lot and we need to make sure we get it.

It is beneficial to us all to talk up the Precinct, not talk it down. We need to continue to stay angry about the lack of action in our suburbs and get the ball rolling on those issues, while encouraging the Council to further develop the concepts and the costings for the Cultural Precinct. I can tell you right now that if we felt that we were getting a fair go outside of the city area, we would all be much more supportive of the Precinct.

Take note Val, if you want to get the population you represent behind you in this one, you need to look after them in their communities. It's a simple and as complicated as that.

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