Philharmonic is facing extinction

Australia’s oldest surviving cultural organisation, the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic (RMP), is poised to close its doors at the end of the year because of local and state government indifference and neglect.

Musical director and conductor Andrew Wailes says the organisation is no longer appreciated by the Victorian Government and the City of Melbourne which, he says, are focused on avant-garde, trendy and experimental artistic expressions.

The State Government is refusing to guarantee the future of the group’s home in the historic Drill Hall in A’Beckett St and the City of Melbourne last month did not renew its arts funding.

For Mr Wailes, missing out on a $20,000 annual council grant was the final nail in the coffin of the group, which was established in 1853. The RMP was not on the list of 58 successful recipients who shared $765,000 arts funding announced by the City of Melbourne on October 6.

“$20,000 is not a lot of money but, for us, it is the difference between being able to continue or not,” Mr Wailes said.

It is particularly galling for the organisation, which comprises hundreds of world-class volunteer choristers and part-time-paid classical musicians, that the council this
year opted to fund a $7000 tattoo on a woman’s back.

“We are disappointed and frustrated that the cultural importance of the philharmonic is not appreciated,” Mr Wailes said.

Mr Wailes said the mainstream cultural arts were somehow to survive on their own.

“I hate to use these words, but I think it’s a cultural cringe that has prejudiced the funding panels,” he said. “The people on these panels making these decisions are more interested in being fashionable and trendy.”

“It’s been like this for a long time now. This city has lost so many of our classical arts and it looks like the oldest cultural group in Australia will be next to go.”

He said the orchestra and choir touched thousands of Victorians each year and contributed constantly to public life in Melbourne through performing at public events such as the Melbourne Cup, Anzac Day, AFL grand finals and the like.

The State Government has refused to guarantee the future of the heritage-listed Drill Hall at 239 A’Beckett St beyond the end of the financial year.

The RMP is one of many cultural organisations housed at the Drill Hall and Mr Wailes says there is no other suitable venue within the City of Melbourne.

The hall is divided in two with the Royal Historical Society of Victoria (RHSV) using the western end and a collection of musical groups occupying the eastern end.

“This venue is used five nights and seven days a week by literally thousands of people,” Mr Wailes said.

He said the eastern-end’s primary tenant, the Victorian Concert Orchestra, was probably the least frequent user of the space.  But, apart from the RMP, the hall was also used by the City of Melbourne Highland Pipe Band, the May Downs School of Dance, the Australian Children’s Choir, the Chamber Strings of Melbourne and the Melbourne University Choral Society.

Residents 3000 president John Dall’Amico said his organisation was working closely with Museums Australia to explore ways of keeping the groups in the Drill Hall.

On September 30 the RHSV held a rally at the venue to gather support for long-term use of the venue.  Executive officer Kate Prinsley said support had been pledged by former premier John Cain, federal MP Adam Bandt, state member Jennifer Kanis, Cr Jackie Watts as well as a host of history-based organisations.

Greens Melbourne candidate Ellen Sanders has also pledged support.

The Drill Hall’s landlord, Planning Minister Matthew Guy, has refused to respond to CBD News on this issue.

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