The vice president of Port Macquarie and District Eisteddfod Society and dance director Wendy Stewart says the community organisation is being priced out of utilising the Glasshouse theatre as a venue.
Mrs Stewart has been vocal in pushing for changes to the Glasshouse theatre's hiring fees for a number of years.
She cited fees as the eisteddfod's main gripe in relation to booking and using the facility.
Port Macquarie-Hastings Council is currently calling for comment on its draft plan for the Glasshouse for the next two years.
Council says the Glasshouse injects over $31m into the local economy each year.
Council group manager Ashley Grummitt said council offers a 40 per cent discount rate on venue hire fees for eligible community groups to encourage utilisation and activation of the Glasshouse by the community.
"It is important that this discount is applied fairly and equitably across all community hirers," Mr Grummitt said.
"Glasshouse staff work closely with community groups to find the best model and performance space (eg theatre, Studio) to suit their needs in terms of their event delivery and their allocated budget.
"Staff also provide community groups with significant professional and technical support to ensure their events run smoothly.
"The Glasshouse is accessed by a wide variety of community groups each year, including all local schools.
"Port Macquarie and District Dance Eisteddfod (PMDDE) and Lower Mid North Coast Dance Festival (LMNCDF) are two of our biggest community hirers, with huge events each year across multiple days featuring young performers from across several local government areas."
Mr Grummitt said requests for longer duration hire periods (eg 1-2 weeks) need to be considered in the context of other events booked in the venue, and the potential for Glasshouse Theatre Program performances and commercial theatre productions being unable to be delivered for the community.
The draft Glasshouse Plan includes recommendations to enhance utilisation and encourage community participation, including consideration of fees and charges options for event spaces such as the Studio and Podium.
Council also has the opportunity to review the community discount rate as part of its annual review of council fees and charges, noting that council also aims to manage the net cost of the operation of the venue to the community.
Mr Grummitt said Glasshouse venue hire fees are benchmarked annually against comparable regional facilities to ensure that they remain competitive and appropriate.
He said the Glasshouse delivers a huge variety of events each year including performances, meetings and conferences.
Each venue hire is supported by a detailed venue hire agreement, which outlines the fees and charges applicable to the event depending on the event requirements including performance space, technical equipment, set up, ticketing and staff support, he said.
The dance director has launched an online petition calling on council to provide better rates for the community-based organisation. That petition had climbed to 1500 in just a few days.
Mrs Stewart acknowledged that council provides the society with a discounted rate but said the price was still high compared with other council-operated facilities.
"Community events get between 40 to 50 per cent discount on the commercial hire fee but the Glasshouse theatre commercial hire fee is roughly twice as much as other theatres in NSW," she said.
"So community events are effectively paying the same as a commercial hire in Dubbo - for example.
"Dubbo has a specific price for their Eisteddfod Society as they recognise that the performing arts kids in there community are just as important as the sporting kids."
The dance director was also disappointed that council appeared not to consult with groups such as the dance eisteddfod or any other community groups prior to releasing the draft.
She described the draft as an "extremely vague" document with "no real plan for fee changes or making the Glasshouse more affordable to the community".
"It appears that council does not want community events in the Glasshouse if they are not going to make a profit," she said.
"I think council should be asking the community how they want the fees to work for community events that need to use the Glasshouse theatre, especially when it is empty.
"The community should have a say and this wishy washy plan is not asking the right questions," she said.
Mrs Stewart said the eisteddfod society wanted to see Port Macquarie's arts community promoted, from its youngest performers through to dancers looking to earn scholarships or admission to prestigious national dance schools.
To offset costs, the Eisteddfod Society has taken its solo dance performances to MacKillop College hall where they were offered "a very affordable price".
"We love the venue as it has a very friendly feel about it and we are made very welcome," she said.
"The downside is that we have to turn what is effectively a sporting venue into a theatre where we have to hang theatre lights, install flooring, sound system, curtains and set up seating.
"Thankfully we have a small army of volunteers. It is extremely difficult and time-consuming and even more frustrating given that the only public theatre building we can access - the Glasshouse - sits empty for the majority of time we are at MacKillop."
In 2018-19, the Glasshouse delivered 439 events across all of its venues, these included cultural, community and commercial activities. Visitation to the venue exceeded 266,000 and the box office processed over 78,000 tickets.
The draft Glasshouse Plan 2020-2022 is currently on public exhibition. Council welcomes submissions from interested groups and individuals for consideration by council before the plan is finalised.
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