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Arts Minister on collision course with western Sydney and regional NSW over funding

Arts Minister Troy Grant has cast doubt over whether the state government will fund upgrades to cultural facilities in western Sydney and regional NSW.

Grant said local government had primary responsibility for building cultural infrastructure, while "we fund what's inside them".

"So if we change that precedent we'd have to assess what the actual long-term demand on government would be and whether that's sustainable," he said.

Arts centres in western Sydney are seeking money from the NSW government's $600 million cultural infrastructure program to help fund building upgrades.

Grant said the allocation of the remaining $259 million in the program was still under consideration.

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But he pointed out the Dubbo Regional Theatre and Convention Centre, which he said had cost $18 million, had been funded by ratepayers, not state government.

He said he had told western Sydney leaders: "My town of Dubbo [is] a lot smaller than the rate base you've got ... and now you want the NSW government to build you one. What about your ratepayers?"

He added: "There are many great ideas in the cultural infrastructure space and the state government cannot fund them all."

Grant's comments may put the state government on a collision course with arts leaders in western Sydney as well as regional NSW.

Penrith mayor Karen McKeown said: "We would be incredibly disappointed if the inequity in arts and cultural funding were to continue despite the Government's promises to redress this in the lead up to the State election and acknowledgement more investment is needed in the West."

The chairman of the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue, Christopher Brown said taxpayers in western Sydney were not receiving a fair return for their taxes.

"Is the Art Gallery of NSW funded by the City of Sydney?" he asked.

He added: "Are we asking local government to pay for all the roads and rail lines?

"No, well why ask them to pay for all the arts involvement as well?"

Brown conceded the lion's share of arts funding would be spent in Sydney's CBD but "not to the exclusion of families in western Sydney who can't just pop down on a Wednesday night to the art gallery".

"It beggars belief that there would be no role for state government in the arts facilities in western Sydney," he said.

Brown said people in western Sydney did not expect the region would receive the same amount of arts funding as inner-city Sydney.

"We're not asking to equalise it," he said. "We're just saying 'Dudes, drop a bit off the edge of the table. Give us something'."

The chief executive of Regional Arts NSW, Elizabeth Rogers, echoed Brown's call for money to be spent on cultural building projects outside the Sydney CBD.

"Once construction costs are complete for new buildings or re-purposed existing buildings for arts and cultural activities, ongoing maintenance, program and staffing costs are met by local government," she said. "The NSW government needs to play a stronger role in the provision of funding for all forms of cultural infrastructure in regional communities."

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