Nepotism, intimidation and obscene mismanagement have created a toxic atmosphere at Marrickville’s Addison Road Centre (ARC), according to long term tenants of the Centre.
The Centre has provided a home for culture, arts, environment and community groups since 1976. It is alleged that the ARC has recently been subject to falling standards of management, disregard for its constitution, suspect financial practices and the persecution of any group that speaks out against the board’s direction.
Aerialize, a popular not-for-profit aerial theatre company is one of the first casualties; forced to leave their 12-year-old premises after General Manager Patrick Corrigan criticised the ARC board.
The board recently evicted the troupe, claiming that Aerialize was occupying space that was required for community-based groups.
“Its been a disappointing outcome and something that could possibly threaten our future existence,” Mr Corrigan said
“We are a community based group that services disadvantaged and indigenous people, and support organisations like the Starlight Foundation and Links to Learning, and none of that’s being taken into account.
“There’s been a view that we don’t represent the community, which is patently ridiculous – 40,000 people a year come through our building – and most of them are from the Newtown, Enmore and Marrickville area. How much more community can you get?”
Founding Director of Sidetrack Theatre, Don Mamouney was reluctant to speak out because the theatre’s lease has been up for renegotiation for the last 12 months.
“Part of the reason that Aerialize have been moved on is because Patrick was quite critical of the accounting practices and the reporting of the finances of the centre,” he said.
“My suspicion is that it’s because of this whistleblowing that Aerialize is being made to suffer.”
“It’s particularly disappointing because this was a major group within Addison Road who not only contributed culturally but also contributed significant amounts of money through rent of the hall,” he said.
Mr Mamouney was critical of the board’s accountability, their lack of planning and expensive operational model that he said doesn’t take into account the care of the centre grounds or support the strong groups in the centre.
He is also being punished for this criticism.
Sidetrack Theatre is one of several buildings that still contains a corrugated asbestos roof, even though ARC was given a $40,000 grant by the State Government to remove them three years ago.
“We were promised 18 months ago that our roof will be done next and it still hasn’t,” Mr Mamouney said.
The Centre has also begun construction of a soup kitchen right on the theatre’s doorstep, blocking access to its loading dock.
A spokesperson for Marrickville Council confirmed that a development application for the kitchen had not been lodged.
“As members, there was a point where we used to get minutes, we were informed. We no longer know the reasons behind decisions being made,” Mr Mamouney said.
“Now they appear to be being made on the basis of personality rather than contribution.”
He said the Addison Road Gallery is another organisation that is being kicked out without good enough reason given.
Its curator, Terry Cutcliffe was subjected to a campaign of intimidation after he too was critical of the ARC board.
The board’s chairman at the time he had a conversation with a police officer, about pot plants outside the gallery which were deemed a traffic hazard. About a week after Mr Cutcliffe refused to move them, someone with a sledgehammer destroyed the plants late at night.
The popular “Stolen” sculpture, built from milk crates was also smashed up overnight.
“The amount of support that Terry Cutcliffe gave to the community does not warrant the kind of treatment that he’s getting,” Mr Mamouney said.
Like Mr Mamouney, Mr Cutcliffe was reluctant to speak specifically about his own treatment, however he was very critical of the Centre’s management.
He said the board was dysfunctional and did not represent the community.
“There has been an implosion of management caused by poor governance,” he said.
“There’s an absolute need for more transparency and my great concern is the place will be lost to the community.”
Mr Cutcliff is worried that members of a political organisation are attempting to take over ARC.
ARC member Jill Hickson stood for the Socialist Alliance in the 2011 State Election. And while she is not a member of the centre board, some ARC tenants allege that she and her husband, the former chairperson, John Reynalds are the people driving all the new appointments.
Though Mr Reynalds is no longer on the board due to term limits, he is expected to return to the board next year.
‘These people have a very narrow political agenda,” Mr Cutcliffe said.
The board is required to have four representatives from ARC member organisations, (these are required by the lease to be registered not-for-profit organisations), and two community members.
“One member is supposedly representing a registered not-for- profit organisation that doesn’t exist: El Taller doesn’t exist, certainly it didn’t exist at the date of the AGM,” Mr Cutcliffe said.
“With the community members, [the board] wouldn’t accept nominations other than the person they were nominating, they rejected all other applications,” Mr Cutcliffe said.
“There were other people wanting to stand and have an election, but there was no election. They just said they had a satisfactory candidate when there were other people perfectly well qualified.”
Joanna Webber was one of those nominated by another board member for the community position in February, but was ignored.
“I did apply to be on the board and it was completely unacknowledged, I didn’t receive any answer, any acceptance of my application,” she said.
“I certainly have enough community and professional experience to have been considered. I’ve sat on boards before.”
“There is some crazy stuff going on down there, it seems like some people are being looked after and some people are being squashed out.”
Mr Cutcliffe said there used to be a representative from Marrickville Council, but since they withdrew there’s been a decline in governance.
“There are no board minutes distributed any more as there once were. There’s very little transparency in the overall operation and a blatant disregard for the constitution,” he said.
“Anyone that has spoken out, anyone who’s asked for transparency has been targeted, including me.”
The ARC site is leased from the State Government for $1,500 per annum but collects roughly $480,000 a year in rent from its members.
Little is spent on grounds and up-keep and there are also a number of grants being received where the work hasn’t been completed.
Access to the books has been denied to members who aren’t onside with the changes.
The lease with the Department of Primary Industries (formerly Department of Lands) specifically prohibits the board from leasing to commercial groups, however a commercial conveyancing business, under the name of Lawcona Conveyancing Company, operates on site.
Furthermore, the NSW Department of Primary Industries is required to approve all new leases; it is alleged that ARC has failed to inform the Department for the last five years.
City Hub sought comment from ARC management but they failed to respond prior to printing.
By Jason Marshall