Wednesday, December 2, 2020
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National Centre for Photography announced for Ballarat with $6.7 million investment from Victorian Government

National Centre for Photography announced for Ballarat with $6.7 million investment from Victorian Government
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The Victorian Government will spend more than $6 million establishing a National Centre for Photography in the regional city of Ballarat.

The new centre will be located in a heritage-listed building on the city’s Lydiard Street and will house gallery spaces for temporary exhibitions and a photobook library.

“It’s an investment in culture, and it’s an investment in the arts and in regional Victoria,” said Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB) director Fiona Sweet, who championed the project.

“Branding the city as a photographic centre will only add audiences.

Ms Sweet said year-round programming at the facility would be based on the success of the contemporary photography event, which attracts thousands of visitors to the city every second year.

Wind Form by Prue Stent and Honey Long featured at the 2017 Ballarat International Foto Biennale.(Supplied: Ballarat International Foto Biennale)

“We’ll be able to do community activities with local artists, there’ll be workshop spaces, we’ll be able to curate public and education programs,” she said.

The plans also incorporate a digital 3D “immersive” gallery that will be open daily.

“So, if you can imagine the ceilings, the floor, all being activated as a digital photographic experience,” Ms Sweet said.

“This is the kind of technology that we plan to bring to Ballarat, which we know audiences around the world love to engage with.”

Bulk of funds will renovate old bank

The $6.7 million investment will go primarily towards renovating the 19th century Union Bank Building, purchased by BIFB in 2018.

A business case for the national photography centre was developed soon afterwards, based on municipal data around visitation and data from the event, which Ms Sweet said assumed a gradual increase in audiences through the building.

“If you look at the growth of the festival, when I started in 2016 there was about 8,000 people, [now] we’re up to 40,000,” she said.

The grand, three-storey Union Bank Building, built in the 1860s at the height of the gold rush, was used for the last 50 years by an accounting firm.

Some work has been done refurbishing and demolishing the offices that were built inside the building, but the bulk of the redevelopment, which will house up to six galleries, is outstanding.  

The redevelopment is expected to be completed within two years and involves maintaining the integrity of the facade and focuses on structural work towards the back of the building.

The designs are currently awaiting approval from Heritage Victoria.

The festival’s chairwoman Bridget Maloney said it was an enormous moment for Ballarat.

“It’s supporting photographic artists and bringing them to a place where they can exhibit their work.

“The medium of photography is growing: people do see it as a valid art medium and so it deserves its own place.”

In a statement, the Victorian Government said the project had the potential to attract tens of thousands of additional visitors to Ballarat each year and it was estimated to generate $75.7 million in economic benefit over 15 years.



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