THERE’S no argument between the Bass Coast Arts and Cultural Forum and the Wonthaggi Business and Tourism Association (WBTA) over the future of the Wonthaggi Centennial Centre, the town’s visitor information service.
That’s despite the fact that both groups made competing bids to occupy the facility after the shire backs out on its responsibilities there soon.
At a meeting of the WBTA last week, business members welcomed the chair of the arts forum, Wendy Crellin, to address with them on the offer of the $1.25 million ‘Robert Smith Social Realism Art Collection’.
The future use of centennial centre was also discussed.
Mrs Crellin said the Robert Smith collection, which included over 600 pieces of art, among them 86 works by Noel Counihan and several pieces by world famous artists, would be of great benefit to the local economy.
But she said the process for selecting the most suitable use for the centennial centre had been botched by the shire.
“The information centre process was completely flawed from the first public meeting right through to now,” Mrs Crellin said.
“From my negotiations with the council, the idea was that the Robert Smith Collection was to be there.
“I didn’t come forward to put in a submission. I was asked to put in a submission.”
She said art historian Robert Smith and the arts forum had been given a clear understanding that the centennial centre was the best place for the collection.
However, the shire council has since chosen a consortium of the WBTA, ArtSpace and the visitor centre volunteers, known by the acronym ABIA (Arts Business Information Association), to operate the centre, for at least the next 12 months.
Mrs Crellin appears to have accepted that this is now the case.
“But we should have a regional gallery for this collection and the money should come from Federal and State governments and also from philanthropic trusts,” Mrs Crellin told the business group.
“If we put the locally held Counihan collection together; the 86 from Bob, the 10 in the shire collection and six of our own, we’ll have a better collection than the National Gallery in Canberra.”
Mrs Crellin said the opportunity had enormous potential.
“If councillors support it, in the long run Wonthaggi and Bass Coast are going to benefit enormously from it and the opportunities that will develop from that.”
The WBTA has welcomed the proposal and they plan to petition individual councillors to vote in favour of formally accepting the art collection at its meeting on Wednesday this week.
“Regardless of where the collection ends up, whether it’s in the centennial centre, the Old Post Office or wherever, we support what you are doing to get the collection here. It would be great for the town,” said WBTA president Dee Connell.
Having been selected as the successful tenderer, ABIA is moving ahead to finalise negotiations with the shire on a Memorandum of Understanding and a lease.
In anticipation of the changeover to ABIA, which will provide visitor information, the sale of art and meeting room space at the centre, the shire has already scaled back its effort there, and lost official visitor information accreditation.
Once open seven days-a-week, from 9am to 5pm, the centre is open six days now, Tuesday to Sunday, from 10am to 3pm; staffed by paid shire staff and volunteers.
The shire expects to save up to $250,000 annually by withdrawing from the centre, but that figure might be tempered by the financial contribution it will need to make to start-up ABIA.
The WBTA believes the future looks bright at the centennial centre, despite the controversial position adopted by the shire, with visitor information continuing and the potential for a range of other developments to be considered.
There is also the chance that the new council might look more favourably on funding the centre better in the future.

Other issues
Other issues discussed at a busy meeting last week were the shire elections with candidate in the Bunurong Ward Mohan de Run addressing the meeting, the need to attract more paid-up members, the success of the Sunday markets, the Laneway Festival and the Loyalty Program.
The meeting heard that a private promotional venture, involving discount vouchers, had adversely impact the WBTA’s annual Loyalty program, setting it back several weeks.
The WBTA is however continuing on with its shop locally promotion.