Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB) creative director Fiona Sweet is focussing her considerable energy on the continuing creation of what may become a truly significant arts asset to Ballarat and Australia generally – the National Centre for Photography (NCFP).
The creation of the NCFP in Ballarat would make it the first regionally-based photographic centre in Australia. Located in a heritage-listed building in iconic Lydiard Street, Fiona Sweet says the NCFP will host year-round exhibition programming, a permanent photographic collection, school and community programs and artist-in-residence studios.
“The NCFP will bring a focus for creativity and vibrancy to the city,” says Ms Sweet
“It will attract internationally acclaimed artists, create a space for the community to experience art through photography, and create 4.5 new full-time employment positions. It will also drive tourism to Ballarat and regional Victoria.”
The NCFP is an extension of the BIFB, which is a not-for-profit organisation led by Ms Sweet and overseen by a board. Its ambassadors are Julian Burnside QC AO, Judge Sara Hinchey, the incumbent mayor of Ballarat, currently Samantha McIntosh, and as of Thursday The Honorable Steve Bracks AC, former premier of Victoria.
Founded in Daylesford in 2005, the BIFB has grown exponentially and is now a month-long, multi-faceted arts festival comprising two main programs, Core and Fringe, alongside public projects and education programs, talks and workshops.
Ms Sweet says Victorians believe the arts are important to life in the state. As part of a series of surveys conducted by the BIFB among the wider community, artists and educators, it was found:
- 96% believe the arts build social connections
- 93% believe creativity stimulates communities
- 86% believe it increases employment opportunities
- 70% believe it stimulates tourism and visitation.
“A strong and robust arts environment will place Ballarat as a progressive, creative city with enhanced liveability and increased diversity,” Ms Sweet says.
She says the arts bring a vibrancy and increased liveability to regional cities, appealing to those relocating from metropolitan areas who expect to enjoy the same access to arts and culture formerly available in Melbourne. Arts and culture are also strong driver for intrastate and interstate tourism and have flow-on effects for increased local employment and investment, she said.
The Foto Biennale gave forecast figures for the benefit the new centre might bring to Ballarat:
- $43.9m incremental project benefit
- $75.7m economic benefit to the region over 15 years
- 27,652 additional tourist visits by the financial year 2021-2022 (a two-year period following the completion of major capital works)
The former Union Bank building requires significant renovation and restoration, and the BIFB is hoping its argument will bring financial support from within and without Ballarat.
Donors make new photo centre possible
Without the philanthropy and generosity of arts donors in Ballarat, the new National Centre For Photography would not be possible, says Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB) creative director Fiona Sweet.
The Courier interviewed three people who have major contributions towards the establishment of the National Centre For Photography in Ballarat: co-owner of Mitchell Harris Wines Alicia Mitchell; ear, nose and throat surgeon Mark Guirguis; and the benefactor who provided the funds to cover the deposit on number 4 Lydiard Street, the former Union Bank and new home of the photography centre.
That donor has elected not to be identified for her personal privacy. However, in her interview she made it clear that her late husband’s passion for film photography was the driving reason behind her decision to make the major philanthropic donation.
“We had supported the Biennale since its inception In Daylesford,” the donor said, “and I thought it would be nice to give some money to the Biennale, and when I approached Fiona, it was just when she was looking at this building.
“The building, the location of it, is fantastic. That was the first thing that struck me. and now, having seen inside, the potential is fantastic.”
Mark Guirguis is well known for his support of the arts in Ballarat through both philanthropy and his Guirguis New Art Prize awarded every two years. He’s also a patron of the BIFB.
He says the creation of the new photography centre is part of the increasing number of offerings that cultural tourism is bringing to the city.
“I think the Biennale has gradually increased in terms of popularity and its scale,” Mr Guirguis says.
“Having Fiona Sweet at the helm has really raised the bar in terms of the offering of the Biennale itself. I think probably what the National Centre For Photography will bring is an ongoing presence throughout the year. One of the challenges is if we are going to promote Ballarat as a city of the arts, we need to promote things that are happening throughout the year, and the centre will do that.”
Alicia Mitchell has, through Mitchell Harris in Doveton Street, provided a venue for many of the Biennale’s functions over the past years.
She says the beauty of what is presented in the BIFB is a major draw for the city.
“It’s great to see the platforms for the Biennale become bigger,” Ms Mitchell says, “setting up their own gallery space will be an amazing transition. We see a 30 per cent increase in trade during the Biennale; it’s bringing new depth and vitality to Ballarat.”
Historic building is NCFP home
The Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB) has bought the former Union Bank premises on Lydiard Street to use as permanent exhibition space and offices. It will become The National Centre for Photography, a dedicated and unique space for the display and study of the art of photography in regional Australia.
The historic building, adjacent to Royal Craig’s Hotel and opposite Her Majesty’s Theatre, was designed by Leonard Terry in 1863 as the home of the Union Bank, replacing an earlier bank. More recently it has housed the Hospital Benefits Association and CBS Financial.
The building will house two permanent gallery spaces displaying the BIFB’s collection, a contemporary gallery for rotating curated exhibitions of emerging, and leading Australian and international artists, and a community gallery. Alongside this will be a dedicated photobook library, a traditional darkroom, artist in residence studios, accommodation and educational workshops facilities.
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