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Consultant review of Margaret River Heart to drop next week

Residents will get their first look at the next step in the evolution of the Margaret River Heart next week when councillors receive the findings of consultants’ review of the ratepayer-funded arts venue.

The $40,000 review by arts consultants June Moorhouse and Monica Kane was part of a planned service review, but the Times understands the item would include recommendation for the centre’s future.

Since the Heart opened, management costs for the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River-run centre increased greatly, while some groups which previously used the Cultural Centre found hire costs unsustainable, although ratepayers also underwrote some of those fees through an annual arts grant program.

In recent years, councillors were provided an annual warts-and-all update of the Heart and its costs, but that would no longer continue, a Shire spokesperson said.

Operation of the venue and the planned business conference income stream were also seriously affected by lockdowns during the peak of COVID-19.

The cost to run the centre after the Shire took over from volunteer-backed Arts Margaret River initially took some by surprise, but the Times previously reported costs to run the venue were expected to even out after the first several years of operation.

The latest Shire budget figures confirmed that intention, with the projected 2022-23 running cost of $1.253 million slightly down from last year’s $1.395 million.

But costs to staff the venue, which remains closed on weekends except for ticketed events, would increase slightly this financial year, estimated at about $675,000 compared to $650,000 in 2021-22.

The Heart’s financials were also supported by a Shire arts grant program.

Total fees were expected to be $407,300 this year, with a drop in subsidies and grants of $30,765 down from about $90,000 last financial year.

The centre also saw a significant drop in utility costs which a Shire spokesperson said came from a review of actual use costs during the past two years.

The Heart review quizzed users on demographic and use patterns, as well as asking participants to rank and prioritise Shire spending compared to other local government priorities.

In May, chief executive Stephanie Addison-Brown said the Shire was seeking “a rich insight into community expectations and (would) continue to improve the venue to maximise attendance and enjoyment by a diverse range of audiences”.

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