Glimmer of hope for new arts festival

Hopes remain for a new arts-based festival to emerge in the place of Big West. Photo by Benjamin Millar

Maribyrnong Council has left the door ajar for a new arts-based festival to emerge in the wake of the demise of the Big West Festival by setting aside up to $85,000 in this year’s budget for a new project.

Council officers had initially recommended that the council redistribute $40,000 of the $85,000 that was going to be awarded to Big West for 2016/17 before its board suddenly announced it would be winding up the organisation, saving only $45,000 for any new arts-based festival.

But an alternative motion put to Tuesday night’s Council meeting by councillor Grant Miles proposed the Council set aside the full $85,000 and seek feedback from the Maribyrnong artists community and the Festival Advisory Panel on the development of a new artist focused festival.

The motion also recommended triennial funding of $60,000 for the East Meets West Lunar New Year Festival and $13,000 for the Quan Minh Tet Festival, as opposed to the single year funding of $45,000 and $13,000 respectively that had been recommended.

Cr Miles said he had “never seen a more bizarre episode” in his four years on Council than the decision by the Big West Festival board to retire the organisation and festival despite seeming to be in sound financial health.

“The attempted destruction of a healthy, vibrant festival just perplexes me,” he said.

Cr Miles said the investment by Council was essential if it was serious about its Festival City tag.

“We know the benefits these festivals bring our city,” he said.

Cr Nam Quach said Maribyrnong could not call itself a Festival City unless it was prepared to “walk the walk” and “put our money where our mouth is”.

Cr Sarah Carter said the local artistic community has “really made their voices heard and we have listened”.

Cr Michael Clarke slammed the Big West Festival board for blaming the Council in part for its demise, questioning how an organisation with close to $1.1 million of funding over two years “couldn’t come up with a festival program”.

“There is a level of madness here that defies belief.”

The motion passed unanimously.

Save Big West members Merophie Carr Hoang Nguyen cautiously welcomed the council’s commitment.

Ms Carr said there is a lot of goodwill from the Council, particularly towards artists.

“The reality of the infrastructure and the ongoing funding and the real commitment will be a conversation into the future.”

Mr Nguyen said the work must now be done to ensure the Council gets behind an arts-based festival sooner than later.

“Actions speak louder than words.”

Festival funding confirmed in the motion included $27,000 for the Yarraville Festival, $25,000 for Wominjeka, $19,000 for the Seddon Festival and $17,000 for Carols in the Gardens.