Status Update: What’s Been Happening in relation to the Circus Oz Building?

March 27, 2024 | 3 Min Read

First … A Bit of Background:

For many years Circus Oz was based in a historical warehouse building in Port Melbourne.

In 2011 Circus Oz secured funding and support to build its new home in Collingwood.

The Collingwood building was the product of over a decade of work by Circus Oz and was designed as a permanent home for Circus Oz.

Although the Collingwood building is registered as a government asset, it is one in which Circus Oz has an ongoing interest and right to a long-term home. Those rights are based on conditions placed by the Commonwealth Government as owner of Circus Oz’s previous Port Melbourne home on the discounted sale of the building to the Victorian Government. Although it is not commonly known, that sale was made conditional on the Victorian Government providing Circus Oz with a 50 year lease with an option to renew for a further 49 years at what amounted to a peppercorn rent. Those rights were transferred to the Collingwood Building as part of the deal to establish a new home for Circus Oz in Collingwood.

While it has been noted, and it is true, that the Circus Oz building is the largest purpose-built building for circus in Australia. It is not true that it was built as a centre for the circus sector. It was funded and built as a home for Circus Oz. Circus Oz also owns all of the rigging and equipment in the building.

Circus Oz has at different times provided access to the building to a broad range of companies and artists to train and rehearse (as it also did when it was in Port Melbourne). It is perhaps likely, and understandable, that this – and a lack of awareness on the part of many in the circus community of the terms on which the building was initially built, and the rights held by Circus Oz – has influenced the perception of the building and interpretations of how access to it has been managed by Circus Oz both historically and in more recent times.

Building closure:

In late 2021 Circus Oz was exited from the National Performing Arts Framework (NPAF) as a major performing arts company. Steps were taken by the then Circus Oz’ Board to wind down the Company, which resulted in the termination of staff contracts and projects, and the closure of the Circus Oz building.

When a proposal was put to the Company Membership to progress with the closure of the Company it was rejected, and a new Board was appointed in February 2022.

While an offer of transitional funding was made to the Company to assist it to navigate its transition from being a NPAF funded company, that offer was contingent on Circus Oz making specific changes to its constitution – something that is unheard of – and if accepted would set an untenable precedent for all creative companies.

While Circus Oz understands that there has been some confusion about this in the circus community, with some community members understanding that this decision was the trigger for the Company’s exit from the NPAF, that is not the case. The decision not to accept tied funding did, however, leave Circus Oz with no operational funding. The steps taken to wind down the Company meant that it had limited financial reserves to support its operation. At that time Circus Oz reverted to being a small circus company. It relied on volunteer Company Member and friends and colleagues support through most of 2022. Since 2023 it has operated substantively with one paid staff member.

Efforts by Circus Oz to reopen the building:

In recognition of its changed circumstances, as soon as the new Board was appointed Circus Oz initiated conversations with Creative Victoria and Creative Australia in March 2022 to seek to reopen the Circus Oz building on an interim basis while longer term management arrangements were being made, so that the broader Victorian circus community could have access to it.

Recognising that the formal negotiation of a change in legal arrangements could take time, Circus Oz put a formal proposal to Creative Victoria and Creative Australia to open up the building. Creative Victoria and Creative Australia declined to take up that option. Circus Oz has repeatedly sought support from Creative Victoria to reopen the building in 2022 and 2023. Each time Creative Victoria has declined.

Circus Oz is not able to explain why Creative Victoria has done that, or why it is taking so long to be able to finalise revised legal arrangements in relation to the building to allow Circus Oz to maintain an ongoing home in part of the building while allowing the rest to be managed independently for the benefit of the broader circus community.

Since early 2023 (when it appointed its current Manager) Circus Oz has been trying, within its limited means, to allow others to use the building or other Circus Oz equipment. That access has not been restricted to Circus Oz Company Members or a limited ‘club’ of people. It has, however, been limited by Circus Oz’s physical and financial capacity, recognising the legal, logistical and safety requirements of doing so.

With the constraints and challenges that the Victorian circus community have faced in being able to access reliable space to train and rehearse, Circus Oz have understood and felt the frustration of the circus community at not having open access to the building.

Circus Oz has been frustrated too, at not being able to finalise arrangements for the building with Creative Victoria, at not being able to get it open, and at having to wear the criticism of the circus community in light of decisions that were not in its power to make to finalise shared occupancy arrangements that were initially agreed in principle in June 2022.

While it feels like some may wish Circus Oz would just leave the building or disappear, that has not been an option for the Company.  As a company who worked hard for many years to secure the Collingwood building as a long-term home, it is not reasonable to ask or expect Circus Oz just to walk away from its home in the building.

Instead, Circus Oz has been placed in the invidious position of having to bear ongoing criticism from some in the Victorian circus community, while trying to work with the slow machinery of government to protect both its home and work to preserve the status of the building as an asset for the Victorian circus sector.

We agree that arrangements in relation to the building need to be resolved as a priority so that:

  • Circus Oz can continue to exercise its rights and maintain its home in the building
  • Arrangements can be put in place quickly to allow the building to be used by the broader Victorian circus community, and
  • Misinformation and tensions within the Victorian circus community can be addressed and put to the side, and focus can be placed on elevating, promoting, supporting and celebrating circus and Victorian circus professionals.

Circus Oz is continuing to engage with Creative Victoria to work towards that goal.

In the interim, we will also continue to do our best to support the Victorian circus community wherever we can. We may not have operational funding, and so not be in the position to subsidise others in the way we once were but we are keen to continue to collaborate with and do what we can to support others in the circus community – particularly small to medium sized companies. If you would like to chat about possibilities to collaborate, please get in touch at info@circusoz.com.au

 

 

 

 

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