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ACP reluctant to explain loss of grants

Having lost the support of both the state and federal government arts grants administrators, and having operated with punishing losses over the past several years even while enjoying government support, the Board of the Australian Centre for Photography had little choice but to shutter the once-seminal institution.

And then of course there’s the impact of Covid lockdowns this year.

Yet there’s a lot poorly explained about why it managed to lose the patronage of its government benefactors after 46 years. And while we know the ‘who, what, when, and where’ of this story, there are other ‘whys’ that have been inadequately explained by the board and management.

In an exclusive (and rather soft) story in the SMH on November 11 by arts writer Linda Morris, the director and CEO, Pierre Arpin perpexingly attributed the demise of the ACP to the advent of the smartphone! ‘The world has changed and the advent of the smartphone and the iPhone is that everyone is a photographer,’ (if not a sub-editor!) he said, adding that ‘…maybe photography became so prevalent that it’s lost its special cachet.’ (As we pointed out in an earlier story, this was in the same week Ballarat’s National Centre for Photography scored a cool $7 Million in Victorian Government assistance.)

We approached the ACP via its PR consultancy, Utopia Vision, to try to get a better understanding for our readers – many of whom regard ‘Australia’s oldest and arguably most significant photography arts organisation’ as it describes itself, with some lingering affection. (Having attended courses at the ACP back in the 1980s, and visited many of its exhibitions over the years, I include myself among this group.)

I’m not sure we were successful in our quest:

Inside Imaging: The ‘Hibernation’ press release states that ‘our organisation will not receive any operational funding from federal or state funding bodies for the next three years as a minimum. Why is this? Having been a regular benefactor of government support for decades, why have both the State Government and The Australia Council decided to withdraw support, as stated in the SMH story on the closure? There’s also reference to the ACP being ineligible for ‘rescue and recovery money’ from the state’s arts funding body, Create NSW – why was the ACP ineligible? 
Pierre Arpin: ACP has been refused multi-year funding from both the Australia Council and Create NSW making us ineligible for funding until 2024. As non-grant recipients we were also ineligible for other funding.

We followed up, pointing out this didn’t really answer the question, to be told: Unfortunately government bodies do not indicate why they decline applications for funding. It’s become increasingly competitive in the arts and many organisations have lost funding over the past few years in particular through Create NSW.

II: Is the ACP confident that it did all that it could to secure continued government funding?
Pierre Arpin: Yes. We were refused funding from the two major sources of funding in NSW and Australia.

(To misquote Oscar Wilde once again, ‘To lose one source of funding may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness!’ KS)

II: What exactly does the hibernation entail in terms of premises and staff?
Pierre Arpin: The team’s last day at work is December 16. The premises are to be vacated by the end of February. I will continue to support the Board into the new year.

II:What happens between now and the revival of the ACP?
Pierre Arpin: The Board is setting up a sub-committee to look at determining future options.

II: After costs of closing down and ‘closing the books’ for the 2020 financial year,  how much of the approx $3.7 mil in the Building Reserve Fund will be available to revive the ACP at the planned 2021 date?
Pierre Arpin: The fund balance referred to is incorrect: you can see ACP’s financial statements for 2019 on the ACNC website – https://www.acnc.gov.au/ charity

Below is the relevant page from the ACP’s 2019 financial report to the ACNC:
The Building Reserve Fund is the money held in reserve from the sale of the Oxford Street building in 2014. With the ACP chewing through cash at the rate it has been in recent years, it’s arguable whether there will be a critical mass of funds for the ACP to do anything meaningful when the accounts are completed for 2020. Pierre isn’t saying. To access the full financial report, click here.
 II: Who exactly are the stakeholders who are to be consulted on the ‘new way of operating’ referenced in the press release. 
Pierre Arpin: Stakeholders will include artists/photographers/colleagues in the field.
(In the SMH story, there’s a hint that the ‘new way of operating’ will take the ‘centre’ out of the Centre for Photography: ‘…Options include using the funds to establish a photography prize, a partnership with a state institution, or a scholarship program to support studies in photography.’ 
– Keith Shipton

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