Sydney Opera House eyes takeover of Carriageworks following iconic venue’s collapse

Reports have emerged that Sydney Opera House could end up the city’s Carriageworks precinct, after the institution called in the administrators earlier this week.

Based in Sydney’s historic Eveleigh rail yards and considered Australia’s largest contemporary multi-arts centre, Carriageworks entered into voluntary administration on Tuesday due to an “irreparable loss of income” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board of Carriageworks said the sudden cancellation or postponement of “six months of activities due to restrictions on public gatherings” had resulted in an irreparable loss of income.

Carriageworks generates 75 per cent of its revenue outside of government funding, primarily through on-site events and programs like the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, and the design event Semi Permanent (aligned with VIVID Sydney).

“Following the earlier loss of shifts for casual staff, in early-April we stood down almost half of our core staff and asked those remaining to move to a three-day week,” Carriageworks CEO Blair French said.

“Focusing on essential work only we have been striving to find a way through the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Since opening in 2007, Carriageworks has enjoyed the support of both the NSW and federal governments, and the generosity of its many partners and donors.

“During this time, it has become a Sydney institution, attracting one million visitors a year to the site in Redfern and up to 5,000 people every Saturday to the Carriageworks Farmers Market.

“But with restrictions on social gatherings likely to remain in place for some time to come, the board determined that it had no alternative but to place the company into voluntary administration.”

The organisation, which is reportedly without a permanent chairperson, has appointed KPMG’s Phil Quinlan and Morgan Kelly as voluntary administrators.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, sources said the decision to place Carriageworks into administration was made after it became clear the NSW government would not guarantee regular grant funding due in July.

Government sources, who were not authorised to comment publicly, reportedly rejected the claims. NSW has not had a permanent arts minister since the resignation of Liberal MP Don Harwin from the post in late April.

NSW is yet to announce funding geared specifically to the arts, with the likes of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania having taken the lead to support the industry in their respective states.

However, the Berejiklian government is reportedly considering a takeover of Carriageworks by the Opera House Trust.

A spokeswoman told The Sydney Morning Herald that the Trust “has been approached by the government to consult on the long-term sustainability of Carriageworks as an important cultural venue, particularly at this most difficult time.”

“We were deeply saddened to hear of Carriageworks Ltd going into voluntary administration,” the spokeswoman said.

Featured image: iStock/kokkai