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Regional funding comes to an end

Arts NSW ends funding for regional theatre company

ANDREW TAYLOR October 16, 2013

"There was no skulduggery, nor anything illegal to the best of my knowledge.": Mark Cleary. Photo: Robert Pearce

Arts NSW has terminated a $1.5 million, four-year contract with Short + Sweet Productions Australia Ltd, the company responsible for delivering a regional theatre festival, due to a ''serious breach'' of the funding agreement.

It appeared that the company, SSP, spent some of its funding allocated for its regional program on ''non-regional NSW operations'', a statement on Arts NSW's website read. ''This is not acceptable.''

SSP suspended operations on August 1 and appointed an administrator on September 13, the statement also said.

But the founder of Short + Sweet, Mark Cleary, denied any wrongdoing: ''There was no skulduggery, nor anything illegal to the best of my knowledge. A full and complete audit was done.''

The decision to terminate the contract sabotages an election promise made by the NSW government to fund a regional theatre festival. Mr Cleary, who was not a director of SSP but employed as a creative consultant on a part-time basis, said the NSW Coalition had made a promise to fund the regional theatre festival prior to the 2011 state election.

An offshoot of the long-running Short + Sweet Theatre festival, the Short + Sweet Regional Program was in its third year of presenting short plays and actor workshops across regional NSW.


A spokeswoman for Arts NSW said it was a creditor and ''a legal process is currently being followed''. Up to $50,000 was paid to regional arts organisations to complete this year's festival, and next year's festival would also go ahead, she said.

Mr Cleary said the breach related to administration costs including professional bills incurred to comply with accounting requirements. ''With larger organisations there's room to manoeuvre but for a small company used to operating on a shoestring it's very difficult to find additional monies to run basic support services, like an office,'' he said. However, Arts NSW decided that all the costs incurred administering the regional theatre festival could not be paid with funds provided by the grant.

Mr Cleary said the contract to deliver the regional theatre festival was ''unworkable in hindsight'' because it did not make enough provision for administrative costs.