On the 8th November 2012 The Cultural Facilities Corporation celebrated the 15th years of its establishment, with a function at the Canberra Museum and Gallery. At that function Ms Harriet Elvin, who has been C.E.O. of the Corporation since its formation, gave a speech in which she recalled some of her personal highlights of those fifteen years. Her speech is reprinted here, with her kind permission, for the interest of members and readers of the CCC blog.
We were created almost exactly 15 years ago, on 1 November 1997, when the Cultural Facilities Corporation Act came into operation. Very few ACT agencies have remained in existence for this length of time.
Our first year was a very busy one, with the completion and opening of two major new cultural assets: the Canberra Museum and Gallery – or CMAG, as we call it - in February 1998, followed by The Playhouse, which had its Gala Opening in May that year.
By the following year, 1999, both new facilities were achieving their role of proving high quality cultural experiences to the community, with programming highlights including The Judas Kiss and Salome at The Playhouse. CMAG’s program included an exhibition celebrating a decade of ACT self government; an exhibition featuring the work of major Canberra artist Jorg Schmeisser who sadly died earlier this year; and a display of snow domes as part of CMAG’s popular Open Collection series, which features the collections of individuals.
As we approached the Year 2000, we were told our computers might crash and planes might fall out of the sky. Well, I recall we had to have “Year 2000 contingency plans” for each of our sites. Our rather tongue in cheek plan for Lanyon said “If the electricity fails, we will revert to candles”.
The year 2000 was, of course, the year of the Sydney Olympics. The CFC was involved in the celebrations in a number of ways, including through an exhibition at CMAG about the history of sport in the ACT region – the exhibition opened to coincide with the arrival of the Olympic torch in Civic Square. Another highlight of the year was Lanyon celebrating its 20th anniversary as a house museum. The birthday celebrations included a garden party for Lanyon volunteers.
The year 2000 also saw the CFC attract its largest ever sponsorship, with Westpac Bank. The Chief Minister of the day, Kate Carnell, launched the new partnership in the “Westpac” foyer of The Playhouse.
The Olympic year was followed by the Centenary of Federation in 2001. The CFC joined in the celebrations with four major exhibitions at CMAG, and with events at Lanyon that looked back to its own history a century earlier, in 1901, including an Edwardian Garden Party.
Also in 2001 a new children’s theatre season, Playtime Theatre Treats, was launched at the Canberra Theatre Centre, and Canberra Ticketing relocated to the North Building in preparation for the Civic Library and Link Project.
In the following year, 2002, Calthorpes' House celebrated its 75th birthday with a range of birthday events that include the launch of a book by Dawn Waterhouse about her childhood at Calthorpes' House, called Chortles, Chores and Chilblains.
This year also saw the start of a long-term donation program whereby ACTTAB funded a major acquisition each year for eight years, for the CMAG Collection. The first work of art acquired, in 2002, was a Keith Looby work called The Quality Controller.
2003 started with the terrible Canberra bushfires that destroyed so much of the western edge of our city. Lanyon and the Nolan Gallery were evacuated on the 13th of January 2003. I remember seeing a photo of a table set up for a wedding celebration at Lanyon that day: the table abandoned and chairs cast aside as the guests quickly departed the scene. I always hoped that married life improved from that point for the couple who were celebrating their wedding!
The CFC responded to the bushfire crisis in a number of ways, including by helping to mount a bushfire relief concert; recording objects, images and personal accounts of the bushfire; providing free emergency care programs for children; and accepting into the CMAG Collection a range of objects associated with the bushfire. One of these, a burned-out dishwasher, has become an emblem of the loss suffered by the Canberra community in the 2003 firestorm, and is on display in Gallery 1 as we approach the 10th anniversary of that terrible day in Canberra’s history.
But there were many brighter aspects of 2003. For the CFC these included the launch of a new series of cutting edge productions at the Canberra Theatre Centre called Director’s Cut; and the inaugural Great Lanyon Easter Egg Hunt, now a popular event each Easter Sunday.
At Mugga Mugga, the first Sylvia Curley Oration was held in 2003, in honour of the remarkable woman who donated this, her former family home, to the people of Canberra. Our first “orator” was former Senior Curator of House Museums Lainie Lawson, who did so much to establish Mugga Mugga as a house museum and indeed Lanyon and Calthorpes’ House as well. With the support of a dedicated group of volunteers, the opening hours at Mugga Mugga were extended from once a month to every weekend from March 2003.
In launching the 2004 Subscription Season, the Canberra Theatre Centre also launched a series of access initiatives. These new programs led a major award and continue to be a strong demonstration of the Centre’s commitment to extending live theatre to all members of the community, including those with vision or hearing impairments.
2004 also saw the ACT Government agree to a major extension of the area of land and buildings managed by the CFC at Lanyon, thereby keeping this expanded heritage precinct in public ownership into the future.
By this time, the CFC was publicising, through its Annual Report, the number of hours worked by its volunteers, including members of its advisory committees, who all contribute their services on a voluntary basis. The CFC’s Annual Report for 2003-4 recorded those volunteers contributed an impressive 3,340 hours to the organisation.
2005 saw a series of anniversaries across the organisation. The Canberra Theatre Centre held its 40th anniversary - an event celebrated with special performances, open days and an exhibition at CMAG. Lanyon and the Nolan Gallery celebrated their 25th anniversaries that year.
In 2006, after a long time in planning and construction, the new Link and the new Civic Library were each completed and launched, together with a major new public artwork in Civic Square, Fractal Weave by David Jensz. Highlights of this year also included CMAG sending a travelling exhibition of prints to Canberra’s sister city, Nara, as a key event in the Australia Japan Year of Exchange. I was privileged to open this exhibition, together with the Mayor of Nara.
For the first time in many years, Opera Australia came to Canberra in November 2006 with a full mainstage production, The Pirates of Penzance, presented in a shared risk arrangement with the Canberra Theatre Centre.
In February 2007, a severe hailstorm hit the Civic area, with major damage to many buildings, including the Canberra Theatre Centre and CMAG. Storm damage and high humidity at Lanyon led to the Nolan Gallery being closed from the start of the year, with all works being relocated to CMAG.
Despite the challenges of the year there were many highlights, including a large donation of works of art to CMAG by senior ACT artist Jan Brown, leading to a major exhibition in the following year.
2008 saw another large-scale Opera Australia production come to Canberra, My Fair Lady. Eight semi-trailers brought the set and costumes, including one semi trailer that was needed just to transport the wonderful hats worn for the Ascot scene!
Other highlights of that year included CMAG’s children’s programs being recognised in an award in Children's Week; and the acquisition of the Dawn Waterhouse Collection, an extensive array of Canberra souvenirs and memorabilia that is now a very popular part of CMAG’s permanent collection exhibition.
In May 2009, funding of nearly $4 million was announced in the ACT Budget for a major package of conservation works across all three historic sites managed by the CFC. This is the largest investment ever made in these sites since they came under public ownership. The four-year package of works is just reaching completion and will be celebrated with a champagne reception at Lanyon, on Saturday 17 November.
2010 saw the launch of the Nolan Collection Gallery @ CMAG – a new galley space dedicated to the permanent display of the Nolan Foundation Collection.
Other highlights of the year included the launch of new websites and a new ticketing system at the Canberra Theatre Centre; the first Canberra Gold exhibition at CMAG; a Canberra Critics Circle Award for CMAG’s exhibition Something in the Air; and the Wharf Revue coming to Canberra for the first time – this first season in Canberra, Pennies From Kevin, was so popular that it sold out and came back for a return season.
Probably my worst day as CEO was in March 2011, when a major arson attack caused severe damage to the convict barn at Lanyon – now, thankfully, restored after painstaking work by specialised craftsmen.
On a more positive note, in 2011 CMAG’s King O’Malley exhibition attracted critical acclaim and generous sponsorship support from King O’Malley’s Irish Pub and CMAG’s award-winning series of children’s programs was extended by the introduction of a special program for the very young, T is for Toddler.
So here we are, finally in 2012. The early part of the year saw a focus on Lanyon, with a major community consultation project, a very successful Plant Fair with Open Gardens Australia, and a 2012-13 Budget announcement for new funding for community programs there. The same Budget introduced a package of works valued at $3 million for the Canberra Theatre Centre, which will be rolled out over the new three years.
The highlights I’ve mentioned are just a very small selection of all that we as an organisation have achieved over the past 15 years.
Along the way, we’ve welcomed around 300,000 visitors and patrons a year to our various sites – around 4.5 million in total - and held 132 Board meetings. I say this with feeling, as I’ve attended every single one of those!
Our record shows that we are a vibrant, resilient and successful organisation that provides a very high standard of cultural services to the community, which is sought after as an employer of choice, and which enjoys active volunteer involvement and philanthropic support.
As we celebrate the past, we can be proud of all that we have achieved, and can look ahead with confidence and ambition. In particular, we look forward to Canberra’s Centenary year in 2013 with celebrations and events across each one of our sites.Posted by Bill Stephens: member of CFC Performing Arts Advisory Committee and Canberra Critics Circle.