The donors have collectively pledged more than $2 million towards an independent Carriageworks, according to sources in the art business community. Senior arts bureaucrats have been pushing for the Sydney Opera House to take over the operation of Carriageworks.
As many as 15 parties had registered their interest to administrators, according to minutes of the creditors’ meeting filed with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission on Wednesday.
The Neilsons’ offer is conditional on a management and organisational restructure to put Carriageworks on a sustainable footing.
Asked how much he was willing to pledge, Mr Neilson said: “One step at a time. The vision has to come from the management and board. We are simply interested in ensuring the country has as much exposure to ‘art’ as is practicable.”
Any restructure of Carriageworks will likely depend on the success of negotiations for a lease agreement with government arts funding agency Create NSW.
The agency holds the sublease from Transport NSW over the former historic railway yards where Carriageworks is based and contributes $2.5 million in support annually. As for many arts organisations, Create NSW extended a rent-free period during COVID-19.
It’s been acknowledged that a new business model for Carriageworks would need to build in greater resilience to external economic shocks such as those that occurred with coronavirus.
Negotiations with Create NSW for a lease had been “ongoing for some time” before voluntary administrators were called, according to the creditor meeting’s minutes.
Government concerns about Carriageworks’ financial position predated the pandemic’s forced cancellation of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, and Vivid shows.
It had consulted with Sydney Opera House and “more widely to ensure that venue continued as a cultural precinct”, a government spokesperson said.
Carriageworks owes more than $2 million to 225 creditors, including arts companies and suppliers, according to documents filed with ASIC.
Creditors were told that the organisation had generated revenue of $11 million in 2019 with 75 per cent of its income from external events and programs.
Kerr Neilson, who last year sold up some of his stake in the fund manager Platinum Asset Management, has been at the forefront of philanthropic efforts to keep arts companies afloat during the pandemic. Paris Neilson is a long time supporter of the arts and a former manager and curator of Sydney’s White Rabbit Gallery established by her mother Judith.
Linda Morris is an arts and books writer at The Sydney Morning Herald