Australian Centre for Photography to shutter doors

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The Australian Centre for Photography, a multi-use gallery and workshop space that has been a constant in the Australian photographic community for more than 40 years, is set to close its doors as a result of a perfect storm of COVID-19, a lack of funds and the rise of smartphone photography.

The ACP board announced in a statement on Thursday the organisation would move into a period of hibernation to 'stem the risk of ongoing financial losses and protect the capital in an investment fund it considers vital to its long-term viability.'

The ACP opened in Paddington in 1974 as the first Government funded national organisation for the promotion of photography in Australia. Photographer David Moore conceived of the Centre as a non-profit, cultural organization, with aims to research, exhibit, publish, collect and encourage photography in Australia.

Since then, the ACP has been instrumental in developing the careers of many of the leading lights of photography in the country. The ACP presented the first major retrospectives of photographs by Max Dupain, Olive Cotton and Mervyn Bishop as well as the early exhibitions of works by Bill Henson, William Yang, Tracey Moffatt and Trent Parke.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the organisation had lost multi-year state funding and missed out on Australia Council funding in 2019, and was ineligible for rescue and recovery money from Create NSW. Annual revenue from workshops had also taken a considerable hit, from $995,000 in 2011 to just $110,000 this year.

ACP Chairman, Michael Blomfield, said the decision to hibernate the business was a 'painful one', with 21 staff affected.

“The Board believes that securing our long-term future in any form requires the protection of our capital now. In the face of massively reduced income in the COVID era, and the reality that our organisation will not receive any operational funding from federal or state funding bodies for the next three years as a minimum, it is clear that continuing to operate in our current form is a pathway to extinction," he said. 

Speaking to the Herald, Director and chief executive Pierre Arpin described the decision as the latest in a series of hard knocks for the arts sector, and the result of changing attitudes to photography.

"The world has changed and the advent of the smartphone and the iPhone is that everyone is a photographer," Arpin said. "I'm not sure it's a crisis. It's the evolution of the medium. As the medium started being recognised as a legitimate art form the ACP came to fruition. 

"We've had decades worth of exhibitions highlighting some of the greats that started here in Australia. It's not that the mandate itself was less relevant but maybe photography became so prevalent that it's lost its special cachet."

The organisation will cease its current form of operation on 16 December following its upcoming Photostart 2020 exhibition, with a restructure and final decision on its future to be made in 2021.

The move to shutter the ACP comes in the same week that the Victorian Government announced it will establish a National Centre for Photography in Ballarat.

You can read the full statement about the ACP closure on the ACP website here.

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