ACT News

Manning Clark House in dire straits and desperately needs cash

The heritage-listed home needs an immediate injection of $50,000 to survive.

For almost two decades, it has been one of Canberra's cultural and intellectual mainstays.

But Manning Clark House, the heritage-listed former home of the eminent historian, is in dire financial straits, and management has written to members asking for urgent donations of funds.

The Robin Boyd-designed house in Forrest was the home of Manning and Dymphna Clark from 1955 until his death in 1991, after which Dymphna established it as a centre for academic and cultural debate.

Over the years, the house has seen an impressive range of speakers and academics-in-residence, and counts among its patrons former High Court judges Michael Kirby and Sir Gerard Brennan, author David Malouf, historian Ann Moyal, and businesswoman Janet Holmes a Court.

But president Sebastian Clark, one of the historian's sons, recently wrote to the institution's life members, seeking an urgent injection of funds to keep the place afloat.

"The financial situation is in a bad way, and we need the immediate injection of some $50,000 to survive," the letter said.

Advertisement

"We are actively seeking help from other universities, individuals and the ACT government. It would be a great pity if the house ceased to put out its fine program of lectures, discussions, exhibitions, poetry readings and musical events."

Director Judith Crispin confirmed on Tuesday that the house was facing significant financial difficulties.

"A few years ago, we started to lose funding from one of our major sponsors, the Australian National University, and because that money was used basically to prop up the whole infrastructure of Manning Clark House, we really needed to replace it in order to continue," she said.

"We've really reached a point now where we've reached a lot of our reserves, and if we don't find a way to plus up that hole we really are considering whether we should call it a day."

Ms Crispin said she had already approached ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher in the hope of convincing her to inject some government funds into a uniquely Canberra institution.

"We've tried to convince her that this is a good idea, and they're currently considering it. It would be a long-term solution," she said.

"Otherwise, we'll continue to juggle I think until we find some sort of permanent funding. We've been funded essentially – outside of the ANU money – just by philanthropy, so it's not very secure."

Ms Crispin said the house has recently received $20,000 from two of its patrons.

Ms Gallagher confirmed the recent meeting with Manning Clark House management, saying the government had "acknowledged the issues facing the historic institution".

"I have sought advice from ACT Heritage and the Arts portfolio about scope for the ACT Government to assist, however, no decisions can be taken, in a tight budget environment, until I have received and considered this detailed advice," she said.

Mr Clark said it cost around $200,000 a year to run the house and pay its staff, but he was confident it would receive the necessary funding to continue delivering its programs.

His brother, the Fairfax journalist Andrew Clark, was also confident that the house in which he grew up would overcome its "serious financial challenges".

"It's a great institution which promotes both scholarship and discussion about issues of the day, and by its very nature it's not an organisations that's going to generate a lot of funds through its activities, and therefore it relies on the goodwill of likeminded institutions, patrons and members," he said.

He said Manning Clark House, which had been running for nearly 18 years, had always had good relationships with several universities, especially the ANU, but that it could not rely on their support forever.

"Universities have their own issues, financially, at the moment, so it's not that surprising that we are facing these financial challenges," he said.

"But we're fully aware of the seriousness of the situation and we're taking action."

Advertisement