The Wallendoon Street building which now houses The Arts Centre enjoyed a rich and varied history before it was purchased by the Cootamundra Shire Council in 2004. The site began its life as the country depot of farm machinery manufacturer Massey Harris exactly 100 years earlier in 1904, before making way for the agricultural supplies business of the Producers’ Cooperative Distributing Society Ltd. (PDS) in 1925. The PDS operated for almost 50 years in this location before it ceased trading in 1974 and the building was sold to Skin Processors of Australia Ltd., the site then being taken over and extended by Conkey’s Meats.
In 1980 Shepherd Woolskins established its operation at 18-20 Wallendoon Street, producing a significant percentage of Australia’s Ugg Boots and other woolskin products from the building. In its final chapter as an industrial site, the Arts Centre building became the home of a Chinese import-export business which soon went bust, leaving the site derelict and unused for several years before its acquisition by the Council.
Research into the project which was to become The Arts Centre began in the 1990s when the Cootamundra Amateur Dramatic Arts Society Inc. (CADAS) looked at several possible locations to house a standalone theatre to host live dramatic performance. After examining various options in the town over the years – including the old hospital laundry and the Westpac bank building – the old complex at 18-22 Wallendoon Street was first examined in 2002 as a possible site for investment. As research continued the scope of the project broadened; the opportunity was identified to establish an across-the-board multi-disciplinary Arts facility, constructed by the community for the community. The vision became the union of the strong but segmented arts groups in the town, which together would be better able to compete for investment funds which had traditionally gone almost solely into sporting facilities.
2003: After several months of initial research, the first proposal to secure the complex was put to the Shire Council General Manager and Mayor in July. In the latter half of the year, a formal business plan was developed in cooperation with the CDC Development Officer, with the team surveying the community in depth for their ideas. An official proposal was put before Council at their November meeting; after lengthy discussion, the Council voted in favour of the nascent Arts Centre project going ahead, by 10 votes to two. However, celebrations were short-lived as three Councillors soon moved to rescind the decision.
2004: Council met again in February, and the proponents of The Arts Centre project once again presented their case for the proposed development. All but one of the Councillors stood fast to their original decision and once again voted in favour of the project. In April the building in Wallendoon Street was purchased by Council from Jinmar Pty Ltd. for $140,000 with a further $60,000 provided by the Shire for the clean-up of the site. In May the development and management of the building and the project was handed over to a specially-formed Section 355 Committee of Council, to be known as the Cootamundra Creative Arts and Cultural Centre (CCACC) Committee.
Work on the site began immediately, with volunteers – including service organisations, schools, work-for-the-dole project members, and other parts of the community – clearing and cleaning up the site and reconstructing original walls and floors. Five and a half semi-trailer loads of rubbish were removed from the site over the first year. In addition to the site clean-up the $60,000 provided by council paid for the rewiring of the building, the refurbishment of the old service-station shop-front and the adjoining shed ready for lease and the restoration of the old office block for lease as studio spaces.
2005: The Committee raised an additional $40,000 to allow the complete refurbishment of the central carriageway of the building into two large visual arts studio workshop spaces ready for use. These were opened late in the year by the Chairman of the Eastern Riverina Arts Program (ERAP) at the time, Rae Goodlass. Cootamundra Council won the Local Government and Shires Association Award Category C Capital Infrastructure for the visual arts and commercial infrastructure phase of The Arts Centre project.
2007: The Shire received a second Award for Capital Infrastructure for the Exhibition Space development.
2010: Works Manager Leigh Scott was awarded the top Regional Arts Australia Award in the country for his contribution to the arts at a ceremony in Launceston, Tasmania. The work of Project Manager Isabel Scott was also recognised when she was runner-up in the Casella Wines Rural Woman of the Year award for contribution to the community with The Arts Centre.
2011: The Arts Centre’s flagship venue, the Tin Shed Theatre, was officially opened in October by Executive Director of ArtsNSW, Mary Darwell.
2013: Early in the year a large injection of funds was confirmed from Regional Development Australia. Complemented by generous and sizeable donations from the local community through the Cootamundra Creative Arts Trust (CCAT) and further contributions from the Shire Council, these funds will allow the infrastructure development phase of The Arts Centre to be completed before the end of the year. In June, Cootamundra Creative Arts Inc. was incorporated as the new body tasked with the running of The Arts Centre organisation. The Cootamundra Creative Arts & Cultural Centre Committee remains as a Section 355 Committee of Cootamundra Shire Council to maintain and develop the building itself.