New Mercury Cinema board gets $50k funding lifeline

The Malinauskas Government has agreed to give embattled cinema group Mercury CX $50,000 to “keep the lights on”, after the organisation changed its board of directors and vowed to explore other operating models that are less reliant on public funding.

Dec 13, 2022, updated Dec 13, 2022
The Mercury Cinema. Photos: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

The Mercury Cinema. Photos: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

Minister for Arts Andrea Michaels announced today that the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science would provide Mercury CX with $50,000 to help the film industry and screen talent training organisation stay operational over the next few months.

Mercury CX, which operates the 186-seat Mercury Cinema in Adelaide’s West End, has faced the prospect of insolvency since May after the Malinauskas Government knocked back its request for $700,000 to $1.2 million in annual funding.

The decision from Michaels to grant emergency funding comes two weeks after Mercury CX’s former board was replaced by a new group of South Australian film industry members.

The former board, led by chair Gena Ashwell, departed on November 30 after telling the membership of Mercury CX they had “[exhausted] all efforts to find a sustainable business and funding model”.

Michaels said in a statement today that “we remain committed to supporting our State’s vibrant screen sector and I look forward to working with the incoming MCX Board, comprised of highly regarded industry leaders, as it develops a sustainable operating model”.

“The South Australian Government is providing a contribution of $50,000 to MCX, to assist the board while it reviews the organisation.”

The new board is led by former South Australian Film Corporation chair Peter Hanlon and Emmy Award-winning producer Kirsty Stark, who vowed to members last month to explore potential partnerships with other local film organisations to keep Mercury CX afloat.

The board also features Labor-connected lawyer Adrian Tisato, film director Madeleine Parry, Highview Productions producer Lisa Scott, UniSA associate professor Kath Dooley, Channel 44 business development manager Chris Leese and Closer Productions producer Rebecca Summerton.

Summerton said the new board was “thrilled” the state government has offered $50,000 to “keep the lights on”.

“My reading of the situation is that the previous board had made it clear that they needed $700,000 in order to continue,” she told InDaily.

“This new board has said to government that we will examine all possible operating models for the functions of the organisation to continue, whether that be through partnerships, through philanthropy… various operating models and partnerships that might be possible to keep it going.

“I think that message has been looked on favourably by the current government who said that they’re willing to give us this $50,000 so that we can keep the lights on while we do this work.”

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Summerton said the organisation would operate in a “skeleton form” over Christmas with three part-time employees.

InDaily can reveal former Music SA CEO Lisa Bishop has been appointed Mercury CX’s interim general manager.

She will replace current CEO Karena Slaninka, who has flagged she will depart Mercury CX on December 31.

Bishop is a producer at South Australian film company Never Too Late Pictures and is currently deputy chair of the Adelaide Fringe.

According to her LinkedIn, she worked at Mercury CX from 2010 to 2014 as a special projects manager before leading Music SA from 2015 to 2020.

Summerton said the board would be working closely with Bishop to present new operating model options to the Mercury CX membership “by the end of February”.

“The previous board flagged that the organisation was in a pretty dire financial position, and we can confirm that having looked at their accounts,” she said.

“There was no way for it to continue in the form it was going, so that’s why we’re making the decisions we’re making at the moment and have been grateful to receive this small amount of money to be able to keep the organisation operational while we do this work.”

A petition to save the Mercury Cinema has passed 2300 signatures.

Mercury CX’s next special general meeting is scheduled for January 9.

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