‘Significant’ issues behind ‘visibly tired’ and closed Tandanya

Adelaide’s Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute says ageing infrastructure and staffing issues are causing headaches at the centre which has been closed for two months.

Aug 31, 2023, updated Aug 31, 2023
Photo: David Simmons/InDaily.

Photo: David Simmons/InDaily.

Tandanya’s annual report says issues impacting the Grenfell St cultural centre are “of a magnitude unusual for an organisation of [its] size” according to acting chair Patricia Waria-Read.

Tabled in Parliament this week, the annual report for 2021-22 says that the institute suffered a $284,000 loss in the financial year – up from a $351,000 loss the year prior but below the budgeted breakeven position it hoped for.

Tandanya hosted the national launch of the Indigenous voice to parliament Yes campaign in February but “temporarily” closed in July.

Photo: David Simmons/InDaily

InDaily then approached Arts Minister Andrea Michaels about the closure but was referred to Tandanya as “it’s not a government-owned site”. Michaels is listed in the annual report as being the responsible minister, and the document was addressed to the MP.

In the report to parliament, the acting chair’s statement noted problems with the building’s infrastructure and “significant workforce issues” leaving the institution hamstrung.

“There are gaps in the workforce and increased demand for work-ready First Nations leadership in Arts and Culture,” Waria-Read said in the annual report.

“These issues are of a magnitude unusual for an organisation of our size.

“This has led to budget forecasts being eroded, especially when the impact of COVID-19 restrictions, TANDANYA not being available as a venue for the 2022 Adelaide Fringe because of infrastructure issues, inflated costs and the remedial work needed to be undertaken are also factored in. This needs to be appreciated fully in order to properly understand the current fiscal position.”

A turnover of CEOs saw Dennis Stokes depart the role in June 2021 to be succeeded by Kristie Parker on an interim basis until late January. Parker was followed by Nancia Guivarra on an acting basis, with Phillip Saunders currently holding an interim role.

“Even with the best efforts of Ms Parker, organisational instability and disruption has been a consequence of these changes and that instability has cascaded through all levels of the organisation,” the report said.

The expense and complexity of maintaining the Grenfell Street site was also highlighted.

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“The building’s original purpose as an electric supply power plant station, recast as an exhibition space, has always been problematic, but TANDANYA has worked with what it has,” Waria-Read said.

“It is now visibly tired, unkept and requires continuous and expensive maintenance and repair work.

“Due to health and safety issues for both visitors and the visual arts collections, the lighting and infrastructure in the main gallery was removed. This outcome increases exhibition expenditure as we need to hire lighting for all exhibitions.”

Tandanya hosted the national Yes campaign launch in February. Photo: Johnny von Einem/CityMag.

Current interim CEO Saunders said in the report that 2021-22 was a “difficult time” for the gallery space “given the complex and unpredictable environment incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, changes in staff turnover and decrease in earned income”.

“After thirty-three years of operating as a nationally and internationally significant exhibition space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and culture the phase for pause, review and reflection, renewal was timely and sensible,” he said.

“TANDANYA cannot be allowed to limp towards its vision. With the right changes and the right input, it can deliver a unique offering with the same artistic excitement, professionalism and confidence moving into the future.

“The organisation was in 2021/22 and remains, at a significant crossroads and the opportunity exists now to put yesterday behind us and to focus and deliver for tomorrow.”

The report also details the organisational structure Tandanya intends to implement following its strategy refresh. This involves the CEO reporting directly to the Tandanya board and overseeing the artistic manager, the infrastructure manager, marketing manager and corporate manager.

However, the gallery acknowledges that this plan is currently just a proposal.

“A detailed outline of positions based on affordability was not able to be provided for this Review because a revised budget was required and because the Budget Summary was predicated on minimum program delivery, skeleton staff, no major events, no virtual TANDANYA, minimal marketing and publicity was further impacted by TANDANYA withdrawing its involvement in the 2022 Adelaide Fringe,” the report said.

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