The iconic Shopfront youth theatre at Carlton is to be redeveloped as a three-storey creative arts and community centre for the region.
It’s a remarkable reversal of fortunes for the organisation, which a year ago faced having to cut programs and even possibly close after cutbacks by the federal government’s arts funding body.
However, a few months ago, Australia Council for the Arts provided guaranteed funding for four years.
This was followed by Banks MP David Coleman announcing in October a grant of more than $558,000 towards establishing a dedicated Creative Arts Centre for St George under the Stronger Regions Program.
The double-barrel funding will mean an extra big celebration when Shopfront’s young members and supporters gather next month for a 40th anniversary party.
The organisation started in Penshurst in 1976 as the St George Theatre for Young People and moved to Carlton a year later. Its new home consisted of a former dance hall, two shops and an old house, which had been used for many years as an engineering factory.
Young people formed a co-operative to buy the property in 1979 for $102,800.
They raised money through 50-hour “actathons”, costume parades, raffles, shows, donations, loans and a state government grant.
Shopfront CEO, Daniel Potter said “things were looking pretty dire” this year before the federal funding announcements.
Mr Potter said they still needed to secure another $200,000 to fund the $1.4 million building project, but had a number of options at their disposal. He was confident work would start in mid-2017.
“Given we don’t have a community cultural centre in St George, it’s about time we did,” Mr Potter said.
“Our focus is on youth but we hope to build a centre that can be used by the whole community.”
David Coleman said Shopfront played an important part in the community, providing young people with access to the creative arts.
“This grant will mean that the team at Shopfront have more space to offer programs for the community, and offer other groups in the community a place to promote the creative arts,” he said. “It will have a $3 million economic impact for the region over the next three years.”
The new centre will have several new multi-purpose and performance spaces, and will also provide offices on the third floor for six community organisations.
Mr Potter said Shopfront would invite other organisations catering for young people, as well as those serving the wider community, to relocate.
“Kogarah RSL Youth Club is already here,” he said.
”It will mean we can reduce overheads and lessen our dependence on government funding.”
Mr Potter said level two would be a multi-purpose space that could be use used for visual arts and workshops.
An outdoor terrace also made it ideal for parties.
”We hope it will be used by other members of the community,” he said.
“On the ground floor, the existing theatre and dance studio space will remain, and there will be two big workshops.”
Mr Potter said the building facade of the former shopfront, which was originally two shops – a women’s fashion store and a butcher shop – would be retained, possibly with new artwork.