The National Film and Sound Archive, a heritage icon in Canberra, believes a business imperative and reaching a wider audience in remote locations is worth compromising heritage values of its art deco theatrette.
Upgrading the theatrette with more seating and technology will enhance public presentations of audio and films and use technology such as the national broadband network to reach people for the first time in remote locations.
The work, worth about $1 million, has been referred under Commonwealth environment legislation to check whether more consultation is needed.
The theatrette is largely defined by art deco design features and lots of space.
In its current form, these are difficult to highlight in low light or in darkness, preventing audiences from appreciating the room.
The NFSA says the configuration is unsuited for sound presentations from the national collection and as a venue for private performance and conferences.
Replacing 130 seats on a flat surface with 250 tiered seats and installing equipment should take about six months.
Installing the tiered seating will impact adversely on the heritage significance of the two-storey space.
Heritage architecture firm Eric Martin and Associates says the theatrette's interior is of exceptional significance.
''Alterations to the interiors which modify the size or volume of original spaces, or will impact on significant fabric, are not supported.''
This work is essential, according to the NFSA, to secure the economic viability of the archives at Acton and it will enable the NFSA to continue operating in the building for a longer time.
''NFSA acknowledge that there will be an impact on the significance of the space through the reduction in volume. However, they consider there is no feasible alternative to upgrading the sightlines and performance of the space for its public educational program than the option proposed.''
Several floorboards will be cut and lifted for access to the floor slab and carpet tiles will be used to enhance acoustics.
The stage will be extended by about a metre. An access lift will be installed to meet building code requirements.
Formerly the Australian Institute of Anatomy, the 1931 building is on the Commonwealth Heritage List.
NFSA general manager of corporate operations Noel Florian said the work would make the theatrette more usable for schools, while retaining the character of the place.
The NFSA generates about $3 million in annual income.
This financial year it aims to attract 20,000 paid visitors and 86,000 unpaid visitors, as well as 25,000 primary school students.
Mr Florian said the upgraded theatrette would complement and take stress off the 250-seat Arc cinema.