Curtain-up nears for arts centre’s other half 

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The exterior entrance of the Belconnen Arts Centre’s stage 2. Photo: Helen Musa

JOGGERS and passing motorists will have noticed the doubling of the Belconnen Arts Centre in recent months as the long anticipated stage 2 emerges on the shores of Lake Ginninderra. 

The $15 million expansion to stage 1 comprises a flexible theatre space, a new dance and rehearsal studio, a new exhibition space, a café, new public toilets and a foreshore upgrade and was once referred to by the ACT Arts Minister Gordon Ramsay as “a multi-use town hall”.

Designed by DJAS (Daryl Jackson Alastair Swayn) Architecture, who also designed Canberra Girls Grammar Early Learning Centre Extension, John James Village, and the ANU Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, it has been erected by PBS Building.

On turning the first sod in December 2018, Minister Ramsay talked up an anticipated future of “opportunities for performing arts”. He said the project would create 27 new jobs and include training opportunities for cadets undergoing a Bachelor of Building and Construction Management at UC. 

The history of the centre goes back at least 20 years when, after years of lobbying by a group of Belconnen community artists, a spot on the banks of Lake Ginninderra was secured. 

Amid the festivities accompanying the opening of stage 1 in August, 2009, the then-Chief Minister Jon Stanhope threw cold water on the vision splendid, cautioning that the centre must be made viable and genuinely active before the government would consider a second stage.

But in the original environmentally-friendly design by Williams Ross Architects, stages 1 and 2 had been designed as a conceptual whole, with two unusual curved roof forms which crossed each other, cabling primed to plug into stage 2 and even a low-cost polycarbonate material on one wall surface to be thrown away when the extension went up. 

That concept was to be abandoned when, during the run-up to the 2016 election, the ACT government pledged funding for stage 2 and a totally new design process was set in motion.

Meantime Stanhope’s warning had been heeded and since 2009, the centre has become a hive of visual art exhibitions, dance, classes and workshops, events and concerts, an artist-in-residence program, mini-offices for arts organisations such as Musica Viva and The Griffyn Ensemble, and artist forums in the grand foyer, which looks out through two expanses of windows on a spectacular view of Lake Ginninderra.

While many significant exhibitions have been hung in the three main exhibition spaces, the centre especially endeared itself to the government through in-house socially inclusive programs such as Dance for Wellbeing and won ACT Chief Minister’s Inclusion Awards in 2010, 2012 and 2013.

The new and the old buildings could not be more different. Stage 1 features striking slanted walls, curved roofing and large expanses of glass – a kind of visual fantasy that drew oohs and aahs for its sheer beauty.

Stage 2 is solid, squarer and more functional, with a focus on facilities –  administration, retail and cafes, a flexible theatre and related facilities for up to 280 seats, an art gallery and sculpture venue and service area, a dance/rehearsal room, “artist station” offices and studios, two retail stores, a small event art lounge, an executive office, boardrooms, meeting rooms and customer amenities. 

A rear view of stage 2 showing, left, the new extension,centre, the connection between old and new and, right, the lakeside window of the former “grand foyer”. Photo: Helen Musa

Staff have not been idle during the building process, with Co-CEO and artistic director, Monika McInerney, public programs officer Ann McMahon, Dance for Wellbeing program officer Philip Piggin and IGNITE programs officer Penny Pollard still presenting regular programs (most of which have now momentarily gone online) and new staffers, technical manager Linda Buck and live programs officers Chenoeh Miller alongside Sammy Moynihan working around the clock to get ready for the big reveal. 

Alas, we don’t know when that will be. 

Co-CEO Centre, Jack Lloyd, told us the centre was looking forward to finding ways of showing people through the new building, but that obviously would not take place any time soon. 

But, he predicted: “Belconnen Arts Centre will come out the other side with a new building and wonderful new programs for the community to enjoy.”


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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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