Megalo Print Studio and Gallery artistic director Alison Alder in the lithographic studio at Watson. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
A long-running dispute about one of Canberra's oldest buildings is over - and just in time for Christmas.
Megalo Print Studio has decided to relinquish its dream of residing inside the heritage-listed Fitters Workshop in favour of a new workshop in the soon-to-be-developed Kingston arts precinct.
Such a workshop was part of a pre-election commitment on the part of both the Greens and the Liberals earlier this year. The government had maintained it would stick to the original plan to convert the 100-year-old building into a print workshop for Megalo.
Megalo's artistic director Alison Alder inside the Fitter's Workshop, Kingston. Photo: Graham Tidy
But the building - which dates back to 1912 and has stood empty for decades - has been the subject of a bitter stoush within the arts community for the past three years since it was discovered that it had unusual acoustics that would make it more suitable for a performance space.
Megalo artistic director Alison Alder said the dispute had shown no signs of being resolved, and the time had come to act instead.
"Megalo got to the point where really, we have to look after our organisation and ensure it's going to be stable and secure in the future," she told The Canberra Times .
"Because this has been going on for so long, we could foresee that it's not going to be resolved soon, and so we decided to take this course of action. The Fitters Workshop would have been ideal and wonderful, and we invested a lot of time and energy into that project, but if we get a purpose-built facility then that will be just as wonderful."
Money had already been put aside to convert the space for the printing operation, but the project was stalled after pressure from local music groups, leaving Megalo in limbo.
The Megalo board yesterday offered to end the dispute by proposing that it be housed in temporary premises while a studio is made ready. Arts Minister Joy Burch promptly by announcing that the government would agree to Megalo's request, and withdraw the current development application for the Fitters Workshop. Established in 1980 as a community-access screenprint workshop for paper and fabric printing, Megalo has been housed in temporary premises in Watson since 2003.
In a letter sent to Chief Minister Katy Gallagher on Tuesday, Ms Alder said the delays caused by the dispute showed no signs of abating, "and, indeed, are having an increasingly negative impact on Megalo".
The Megalo board proposed the former bus depot/LDA Wentworth Avenue offices as temporary accommodation while a workshop was designed and built elsewhere in Kingston.
The move was met with approval on all sides.
Opposition arts spokesman Brendan Smyth commended Megalo for its gesture.
"We know that they've been waiting a very long time for a permanent home, and of course all the kerfuffle over the Fitters has delayed that," he said.
"It's a very sensible suggestion from Megalo, and I do appreciate the sacrifice that that means for them."
Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury said keeping Megalo in Kingston would make for a "more vibrant arts hub".
"A compromise needed to be found, and I think this is a good compromise," he said.
"Unfortunately, this has been a protracted issue and there have been strong feelings in either direction, but this provides us with an opportunity to move forward and get on with doing the things that we want our artists to be doing, which is producing great art instead of being involved in a planning dispute."
Long-term advocate for the use of the Fitters Workshop as a performance and exhibition space, Helen Moore, also congratulated Megalo for the move.
"I think that's a very generous move of Megalo, and I'm really pleased that they should initiate this step to end this long-standing problem," she said.
Ms Adler said the move was, above all else, a pragmatic one.
"We're used to sharing spaces and sharing resources, and it got to the point where we just thought that we needed to ensure the future of our organisation, and this is the way to go."
In her response to Megalo's request, Ms Burch confirmed that the $3.9 million in funding that was appropriated in the 2010-11 budget to relocate Megalo to the Fitters Workshop would be used ''to undertake the necessary planning works, and to build a new purpose-built facility for Megalo''.