Councillors bunker down and consider the gallery

COFFS Harbour's Bunker Cartoon Gallery will be returned to the cartooning fraternity, but will have to prove itself in the next three years to remain there.

Coffs Harbour City Council voted to grant a management licence to the voluntary organisation Bunker Cartoon Gallery Inc and to hand the cartoon collection back to the Rotary Club of Coffs Harbour City.

The collection of about 22,000 cartoons is the largest in Australia and one of the largest of its kind in the world and BCGI plans to make the gallery an important centre for cartooning with a range of events, activities, displays and exhibitions based around cartoons and cartoonists

The Bunker has been functioning as a mixed-use gallery facility in recent years, but visitor numbers have been steadily declining, while the expenses of maintaining and running the gallery are over $100,000 a year.

President of local ceramics group Coastal Claymakers Inc, Ann Streckfuss, addressed the councillors opposing the move to return the Bunker to a cartoons-only gallery.

She said her group had held three exhibitions at the gallery and appreciated the unique ambience of the Bunker and especially appreciated the professional help and support provided by the council staff, which was critical to the sustainability of small groups.

She said they were unhappy about the amount of council support to be provided to a single-interest group.

The vice-president of BCGI, Paul McKeon also addressed the councillors, saying the voluntary group was prepared to put the time and effort into making a non-performing community facility into "an asset we can all be proud of" while saving council money.

He emphasised the uniqueness of the cartoon collection and the Bunker, saying the building had been restored from a derelict site specifically as a cartoon gallery and was an asset no other town or city in Australia could boast.

Paul said Coffs Harbour had 10 other actual or potential gallery spaces and the mixed use of the Bunker was destroying the cartoon gallery brand.

Cr Mayor Denise Knight said she had hoped to defer a vote on the matter to late June.

That allow councillors to see what other community groups had to offer, but Cr Knight was unable to do so after Cr Keith Rhoades moved swiftly to approve the staff recommendation before the meeting.

Part of the approved recommendation was that the council continue to discuss with interested parties art and cultural concepts and infrastructure enhancement to community art spaces across the local government area.

This includes City Hill, where the Bunker and the Coffs Harbour Bridge Club are already located.

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