A significant part of Melbourne’s arts and music culture is disappearing in the face of financial struggles at one of Australia’s biggest performance venues.

The Famous Spiegeltent is being axed from the Arts Centre Melbourne’s program following the venue entering a massive financial crisis, undergoing mass staff redundancies over facing a budget blow out of approximately $8 million, as ABC News reports.

By comparison, the Arts Centre’s blow-out follows an operating loss of $1 million for the previous financial year on a total revenue of $60.4 million, but with estimates putting the figure into $8 million for the last financial year, the venue is doing all it can to cut costs.

“There is zero money for programming,” an unnamed senior staffer who departed the Arts Centre earlier this year tells ABC, who alleges that the programming budget was mostly spent in the first two months of the current financial year, leaving little for the remaining 10 months. “There is no cultural or artistic imperative because the focus is entirely on trying to make a profit,” he adds.

“The in-house focus has been on trying to make a profit out of food and beverage sales at the cafes and bars and even that is not a great success,” claims the former senior staffer, who noted few income targets had been met while spending continued in many departments and special projects.

One of the first victims of the Arts Centre Melbourne’s budget crisis is The Famous Spiegeltent, which has run for over two seasons on the forecourt of the Arts Centre with a variety of music, arts, theatre, and comedy performances. One of the first victims of the Arts Centre Melbourne’s budget crisis is The Famous Spiegeltent, which has run for over two seasons on the forecourt [with] with a variety of music and arts…

The Spiegeltent will not be running in its usual autumn residency next year. The venue has featured performances from a host of musicians in its previous seasons, including iconic frontman Tex Perkins, classically trained pop writer Kate Miller-Heidke, Elixir singer Katie Noonan, troubadour Lior, and Swedish folk siblings First Aid Kit.

This year, The Spiegletent also hosted the popular ‘Story So Far’ series, in which Russell Morris, Hoodoo Gurus’ Dave Faulkner, Mick Harvey, and Something For Kate’s Paul Dempsey performed in an intimate setting while offering unique insight into their careers and songwriting in exclusive interviews. The series has moved on to The Toff In Town as a result of Spiegeltent’s cancellation.

The axing of the arts and music venue arrives as Arts Centre Melbourne’s chief executive, Judith Isherwood, told staff this week that meetings would be held to detail how the redundancies would be implemented across a range of departments as staff morale has reportedly plummeted.

In a statement to ABC Arts, Ms Isherwood – who led the government backed reopening of Hamer Hall after its $132m renovation – said the Arts Centre would continue to present its current programming and works by major presenting partners, adding there is a “full twelve month program scheduled for the current financial year.”

With Ms Isherwood adding: “we have also been developing plans to address the challenges and opportunities of the future,” in response to the budget deficit.

The $8m budget blow-out could also affect concerts from popular music acts at Hamer Hall, which earlier this year hosted shows from Bobby Womack, Wilco, The Waterboys, Counting Crows, Karl Hyde, Sarah Blasko, and Kings of Convenience, to name a few.

The Arts Centre is also attempting to secure additional funding from the Victorian State Government to deal with its financial issues, according to Libby Christie of the Australian Ballet, one of the companies that has been directly affected by the budget crisis through the use of the Arts Centre’s theatres.

“That is important for them,” says Christie of the need for government backing. “I have opened a dialogue with the Arts Centre so that we can talk through the issues and there are no surprises,” she adds of the use of Arts Centre’s spaces.

The Arts Centre Melbourne has reportedly made losses on several performances, including the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Robert Lepage’s Lipsynch, and the Philip Glass-penned opera Einstein On The Beach, which allegedly has hit a loss of $1 million despite meeting budget.

Additionally, despite the Arts Centre Melbourne ranking seasonal hits with War Horse and One Man, Two Guvnors, both from Britain’s National Theatre company, their profits were shared as a joint presentation with the MTC (Melbourne Theatre Company), who along with The Sydney Dance Company have reduced their presence at the Arts Centre for upcoming seasons.

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine