Leslie Dimmick: “I’m not going to give up, but my career as a manager of a community art centre has been destroyed, mainly at the hands of several departments of the City of Sydney.” Photo: Chris Peken

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By ALEXANDER LEWIS
A key stepping stone for burgeoning artists has been shut down after 27 years of service.

The iconic Tap Gallery in Darlinghust was kicked out by its new landlord due to a fire safety order imposed upon the building by the City of Sydney last year.

Founder Lesley Dimmick said the non-profit gallery had received no help from the council at all, despite numerous pleas.

“We have to throw all the paintings that we’ve stored here into a dumper bin, all art that has a value, we have to throw everything out because we have nowhere to go,” Ms Dimmick said.

“I was just so surprised and shocked that with all the stuff that’s been in the paper about council helping artists, that they have not come and helped a non-profit organisation run 100 per cent by volunteers, which runs work for the dole programmes and internship programmes.”

Ms Dimmick, who received an Order of Australia medal this year for services to the visual arts, requested assistance from the council in the form of a short term lease.

“A temporary office space in the Darlinghurst area would be the most suitable solution in one of the many City of Sydney properties that align Oxford Street that to all appearances are vacant,” she wrote in an email to all City of Sydney councillors.

“It would allow Tap Inc the necessary time to continue to negotiate with real estate agents and council to obtain a suitable venue.”

A City of Sydney spokesperson told City Hub that there were only limited buildings available with the necessary regulatory approvals to host theatre and arts facilities.

“So far, no properties the City owns have suited Tap Gallery’s needs,” they said.

But Ms Dimmick said the council should have come to their aid a long time ago.

“It’s all to do with us being in the wrong place at the wrong time, which is right across the road from two properties the council owns. One is a theatre, and one is going to be a community art centre,” she said.

“I believe it was political, and I don’t even believe it was unsafe upstairs. We’ve spent over $10,000 complying with their fire order despite the fact that in my opinion it was the landlord’s job, not ours.”

The fire safety order was served upon the building’s previous owner last September.

The order included the construction of a smoke management system on the gallery’s second floor, which at the time was being used as a theatre.

Tap ceased operating upstairs because it could not afford the rent without revenue from performances, but it agreed to pay for improved signage, exit doors and fire stair treads in compliance with the rest of the order.

“The landlord was supposed to do the rest. Of course the landlord didn’t want to do it because there was an auction sign on the building,” Ms Dimmick said.

“The fact is we’ve closed our theatre down. We’ve stopped operating performances.”

She said that when the building changed hands and Tap Gallery was negotiating the extension of its tender three weeks ago, a council firewarden foiled it.

“I argued that there was no fire order downstairs, but this new employee claimed that the fire order existed downstairs too, which scared off the new owner from letting us stay.”

The City of Sydney spokesperson told City Hub that while the cessation of the building’s use as a theatre had remedied some requirements of the order, it still stood.

“That is the biggest tragedy of all, and council has not, despite them having empty premises, agreed to help us,” Ms Dimmick said.

Tap Gallery Vice President Steve McLaren said the closure of the gallery would leave a huge hole in the community as it was a unique stepping stone for local artists.

“Thousands of people have come through here. Some have gone on to bigger and better things,” Mr McLaren said.

“To emulate what we have here – the parties and the underground Sydney art scene – is just so difficult, especially in this day and age.”

Machinist Jonathan Hardy said the grassroots gallery was an important safety net for part time artists like himself.

While his last two Archibald entries were rejected by both the main exhibition and salon refuse, he hung and sold the works at Tap Gallery.

“It’s just a real awesome lifeline really,” Mr Hardy said.

“There’s no one else at the back of the NSW Art Gallery giving the rejects of the rejects a chance to show.”

“They’re providing a real important cultural service.”

Addressing the crowded gallery during the opening of Tap’s final exhibition last Saturday night, Ms Dimmick was adamant she would resurrect the institution.

“We will be relocating. It will be operating under the same philosophy except we will have a bar licence,” she said.

“We’re going to run a bar come art gallery come performance space, just like we are now, but it’ll be a little smaller because we can’t afford a big space anymore.”

Tap Gallery must vacate the building by Sunday, August 2.