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Visitors expected to flock to Aboriginal Cultures Centre but other details under wraps

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Half a million visitors are expected to visit the yet-to-be-built Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre at Lot Fourteen in its first year, but the State Government is refusing to release key details of the business case for the $200 million project.

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Between 485,000 and 581,000 people are expected to visit Premier Steven Marshall’s “jewel in the crown” for Lot Fourteen when it opens in early 2025, a government document summarising the findings of a confidential Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre (AACC) business case states.

The cultural centre, which will house art galleries, performing arts spaces, a shop, café, event areas and a commercial kitchen, is yet to be built at the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site on North Terrace, with construction slated to begin early next year.

The number of annual visitors to the cultural centre is estimated to increase to up to 665,000 people by 2040, with results from a “high-level visitation benchmarking exercise” projecting visitation will grow by about five per cent each year.

The figures are based on estimated population and tourism growth, the size of the centre and average attendance at other Australian cultural institutions.

The average annual visitation to the Art Gallery of SA for the five years to 2018-19 was 765,993, while the SA Museum attracts 764,047 people on average each year.

It comes after InDaily sought Freedom of Information access to the preliminary and final business cases that are expected to outline the centre’s projected viability and profitability.

The Department of the Premier and Cabinet refused InDaily’s request, despite its Freedom of Information officer noting that it was “undoubtedly in the public interest for South Australians to be informed of the progress and proposed details of such a significant development” and a state government spokesperson previously telling InDaily that a redacted form of the business case would be released “in due course”.

In a letter to InDaily, FOI officer Eamonn Maloney wrote that making the preliminary business case public “could place the project at risk of not achieving its full potential”.

“The intellectual property and analysis presented in this report could provide competing cultural centres – of which there are several in planning across Australia – with a competitive advantage and thus jeopardise the viability and success of the AACC,” he wrote.

“I therefore consider that this document contains matter consisting of information that has a commercial value and the disclosure of this information could reasonably be expected to diminish the commercial value of that information.”

Maloney wrote that the final business case was exempt from FOI laws because it contained information which would “disclose details concerning a deliberation or decision of Cabinet and as such is exempt from release”.

He wrote that the Department had instead published a document that summarised the findings from the final business case, which was undertaken by consultancy firm KPMG and considered by State Cabinet earlier this year.

The summary does not contain information about the financial viability or profitability of the centre.

A Department of Premier and Cabinet spokesperson told InDaily: “The business case does contain indicative costings, but given the final operating model is still under development, these are not finalised, and are therefore unsuitable for public release.”

The summary provided to InDaily states the centre “provides a valuable opportunity to expand South Australian’s (sic) share of the general tourism market and the cultural tourism market”.

It states that a “strategic business case” completed by SGS Economics and Planning last year found that the $150 million originally committed to the project by the state and federal governments as part of a city deal “would not be sufficient to deliver on the vision for the Centre as a nationally significant cultural attraction”.

The State Government subsequently boosted the project’s budget to $200 million in November’s 2020-21 budget.

According to the government document, the Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre will span 12,500 square-metres, of which 8109 square-metres will be “outdoor public realm space”.

The establishment of the AACC, at the proposed scale, will be the first of its kind in Australia

The building, designed by Woods Bagot and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, will consist of three levels, with the lowest basement level housing galleries, performance spaces, a gathering area for Welcome to Country ceremonies and “terraced landscapes carved from the earth”.

The basement will also feature a “flexible theatre space” that can be configured as a gallery, theatre, cinema or gala space for functions and events.

The ground level will serve as the entrance, featuring a lobby with ticketing area, a café, retail space and three exhibition spaces that open to an outdoor gallery area.

Nine flexible exhibition spaces of varying sizes, height and light quality will be located on the upper level, which will also feature a central “void” looking down onto the basement level’s theatre space.

“It is envisaged that the AACC will present a dynamic program of curated exhibitions across multiple floors, host and present a variety of productions, talks, films and events in a flexible theatre space, provide daily programs and activations in an outdoor amphitheatre and outdoor gallery space, and include a café and retail shop,” the document states.

“A commercial kitchen and a concept design that considers the flexibility of spaces for commercial and private events will optimise the activation of the AACC and offers a revenue stream to support it.”

A render of the Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre. Image: Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Woods Bagot

Artefacts from across South Australia’s 75,000-piece collection will be exhibited at the centre, alongside pieces from interstate and national collections.

“The establishment of the AACC, at the proposed scale, will be the first of its kind in Australia,” the document states.

“It represents a rare and historic opportunity to showcase Australia’s oldest living culture to the people of South Australia, across the nation and to the world.

“Critically, the AACC is a platform for understanding, for awareness, for healing, for reconciliation.

“The AACC will provide a place for acknowledging the sometimes confronting past, while preserving and passing down tradition and customs, and celebrating and showcasing contemporary cultural practice.”

According to the document, Aboriginal South Australians will benefit from employment at the centre, both during construction and once it is operating, with an AACC Aboriginal Economic Participation Strategy currently being developed.

The document states the centre will have a “minimum two percent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation and employment”, and a minimum of three per cent contract value for Aboriginal businesses in the supply chain.

The State Government will maintain ownership of the building, but a governance model, which is yet to be finalised, will determine how the centre is managed.

“DPC (Department of the Premier and Cabinet) recognises that genuine and close engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities will be essential to the success of the AACC’s design, curatorship, operations and management,” the document states.

“In addition, engagement with other stakeholders, such as South Australia’s cultural institutions, arts organisations, associated education/research bodies and other industry representative groups, is also critical to the successful development of the project.”

The State Government wants development and planning consent to be granted in September this year, so that it can start construction in January.

Exhibition installation is scheduled for October 2024, ahead of a public opening in early 2025.

An Aboriginal Reference Group is yet to settle on an official name for the centre.

Premier Steven Marshall announced his intention to scrap Labor’s plans to build a contemporary art gallery at Lot Fourteen and instead build a “National Aboriginal Art and Culture Gallery” ahead of the 2018 state election.

At the time, the Northern Territory Government had already it announced its intention to build an Australia-first Aboriginal art gallery in Alice Springs.

The NT Government has since published a business case for its proposed gallery.

Meanwhile, the Western Australian Government announced last year that it too would join the running to build the nation’s first Aboriginal cultural centre to fill what the state’s Treasurer Ben Wyatt described as a “great cultural missing link” in Australia.

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