Mike Baird promises multi-million dollar refurbishment that will transform Sydney’s arts hub.

NSW Premier Mike Baird has announced plans for a major refurbishment of the Sydney Opera House and Walsh Bay Arts Precinct, cementing the world famous area around Sydney Harbour as the principal arts hub of the Aisa Pacific region.

A $600 million Arts and Culture Infrastructure Fund has been created, with $202 million earmarked for a substantial upgrade of the Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall. “The Opera House’s largest and most popular venue, the Concert Hall, will be modernised to improve acoustic quality, theatre machinery and access. Stage dimensions will be increased and rehearsal spaces will be upgraded,” Baird said.

Rory Jeffes, Managing Director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, said he applauded the NSW Government on its decision to make the most substantial upgrades to the Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall since it opened in 1973. “Not only will the revitalisation of the Concert Hall have a major impact on the arts community in NSW and Australia, but it will have positive repercussions for the economy of NSW, leading to a growth in tourism and audience engagement,” he said.  The poor acoustics of the Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall have long been regarded as the venue’s most significant handicap, and so the announcement that such a significant provision of funds has been made to improve this issue is one that Jeffes’ is particularly pleased with. “When former SSO chief conductor Eugene Goossens spoke in the 1940s of the need for Sydney to have a world-class concert hall, he dreamed of the Sydney Opera House. He wished to see a venue that included a concert hall with a perfect acoustic for his beloved Sydney Symphony Orchestra. It is my hope that Mr Goosens’ vision will now be achieved through today’s announcement.”

The planned completion date for the improvements to the Concert Hall is sometime in 2018, although no official timeline has yet been released. It is also not yet known where the SSO will reside during the major building works.

In addition to the significant improvements being made in the Concert Hall, the existing temporary function marquee, which is currently located at the back of the Opera House complex behind the Joan Sutherland Theatre, is to be replaced with a new permanent function centre, that will boast some of the best views of Sydney’s harbour.

Walsh Bay

The Walsh Bay Arts Precinct, which currently houses a number of major arts organisations including Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Dance Company, The Song Company and the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, will receive an injection of $139 million to fund the creation of new performance venues in Pier 2/3 as well as major refurbishments to Wharf 4/5. A new public waterfront square will also be created to unite the two wharves.

The Sydney Opera House remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in Australia, attracting over eight million visitors a year, but it is hoped the upgrades to the Walsh Bay Arts Precinct will more than double the number of people currently visiting the area, from the 780,000 annually to more than two million within five years of the development’s completion. “These major upgrades will encourage more people to access the arts and hopefully cement the State as a world-class tourism destination,” Baird said.

The remaining $259 million dollars from the Infrastructure Fund will be allocated to “other priority investments outlined in the Rebuilding NSW State Infrastructure Strategy.” One conspicuous omission from today’s announcement however was any significant improvements planned for the Sydney Opera House’s Joan Sutherland Theatre. Several expensive proposals, some exceeding estimates of $1 billion, have been explored in recent years to address some of the size and acoustic issues that the Joan Sutherland Theatre suffers from, although none so far have been developed beyond the preliminary stages. 

The investment by the NSW governement of $600 million in the Arts and Culture Infrastructure Fund dwarfs the Australia Council and Film Australia’s annual national budget of $222 million to support artists and filmmakers: a budget that is due to be cut by almost $30 million in the next three years.

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