Sydney suburban town halls to get a second life as art venues, live performances

Seven town halls on Sydney’s CBD fringe – former 20th-century local government seats – are opening for live performances and rehearsals to address the chronic crisis in the city’s art housing.

“We have seven town halls and most of them are empty 90 percent of the time,” said Darcy Byrne, mayor of the Inner West Council. “Beautiful public institutions that we have to maintain, no matter how well used they are because they are heritage, but they are grossly underused.”

Marrickville City Hall is being revived by the art industry.

Marrickville City Hall is being revived by the art industry. Credit:Kate Geraghty

An acute lack of rehearsal, performance, exhibition and studio spaces emerged last week at the city-sponsored Inner West Arts Recovery Summit as one of the most pressing issues affecting the industry’s recovery after the pandemic.

The organizers of the Sydney Fringe Festival have moved into Marrickville Town Hall, which turned 100 in February, with the basement serving as a live music festival venue.

When it opened in 1922, Marrickville City Hall was regularly used for concerts, meetings, dances, and balls, and until the merger of the Ashfield, Marrickville, and Leichhardt boroughs in 2016, it was the place where councilors met. Newtown Town Hall, home of the Newtown Neighborhood Center, will become the Newtown Pride Center next year.

Leichhardt Town Hall will be open for live performances.

Leichhardt Town Hall will be open for live performances. Credit:Nick Moir

Usage audits have been carried out for other town halls including Leichhardt, Annandale, Petersham, St Peters and Balmain, all of which are used on an ongoing basis by civil society organisations.

The move to maximize the use of council property for the benefit of Sydney’s creatives is a priority of the council’s four-year cultural strategy presented to summit participants.

In the wake of last week’s conference, Inner West Council also criticized state planning officials for rejecting their proposal, submitted 17 months ago, to open new live music performance spaces, rehearsal rooms and artist studios late at night and on weekends.

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