ACT News


Festival shies away from Fitters' battle

The Canberra International Music Festival organisers say they took a diplomatic decision not to ask to use the Fitters' Workshop at Kingston Foreshore for this year's event.

A bitter civil war has been raging in the capital's arts community for three years over use of the historic building with choral music enthusiasts and a visual arts group each pursuing rival claims to the space.

The fuse was lit during the May 8, 2009 festival, when the venue was used for a performance of Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe's Rites of Passage, when the ''unique musical qualities'' of the workshop were ''discovered.''

This year's festival, which has seen performances in venues all around the city, wraps up on May 20.

The choral music community began to lobby the government to dedicate the space to recitals, despite a deal being in place to house visual arts group Megalo in the hall after a major refurbishment.

The dispute has raged ever since and has become political with Liberal and Greens members of an Assembly Committee deciding that the venue should be conserved as a ''multi-purpose'' venue.


Both sides of the dispute have also used two reports by acoustics experts, commissioned by the committee, to bolster their arguments.

But the government is determined to push ahead with its $3.9 million conversion of the space to give Megalo, currently based in Watson, a permanent home in the foreshore's arts precinct.

But more political and planning battles are expected this year when the government applies for development approval for the conversion.

The festival's artistic director, Chris Latham, told The Canberra Times that against the backdrop of discord over the future of the workshop, he thought it would be better if he did not ask to use the venue for the festival this year.

''With everything that was unfolding, we thought it would be better if we didn't push the issue,'' Mr Latham said.

The director said he believed at the time that last year's music festival would be the last time concerts were held at the workshop.

''It was clear, this time a year ago that there was no option going forward and we used it in the fairly certain knowledge that it would not be available in the future,'' he said.

''Obviously, in the past 12 months there have been slight changes and we thought it would be better for that to resolve itself before we forced the issue.''

Mr Latham has repeatedly expressed his regret at the bitterness that has characterised the debate and re-iterated his support for the ACT government's arts program.

''The difficulty in this is that we're basically funded by the government and it's very difficult to expect to be funded but to criticise the government at the same time,'' he said.

''In the end, I don't have an issue with how the decision was arrived at in the first place, they didn't know that it had acoustics.

''The big problem for us is that we never intended to pick a fight with another art form, we support Megalo and we don't want to be seen to be undermining their good fortune.''