The Cooroy Butter Factory Arts Centre is part of the Lower Mill Site, a precinct in the heart of the Cooroy township in the Noosa hinterland. The Centre serves multiple purposes: a making and exhibition space for artists, a retail outlet for locally produced arts and crafts, a workshop, meeting and events hub for artists and the local community, and a tourist attraction.
The facility consists of three gallery spaces, a retail shop, a mezzanine workshop area and a pottery with 10 pottery wheels and two kilns. The Butter Factory hires the gallery spaces to artists across all media for exhibition periods of up to six weeks. The whole of the gallery’s spaces can be hired at once or it can be split into three separate venues. Workshops can be held within the Butter Box space or the pottery, as well as being hired out to local potters on a daily basis. The retail shop is in reality an artists’ co-operative, showcasing the original handmade works of 28 local artists. The shop is voluntarily staffed by the artists on a daily basis, while the remainder of the Arts Centre is run by paid staff.
After a period of consultation and submissions from community groups to take over the running of the Butter Factory, Noosa Council assigned the venue to the Cooroy Future Group Inc from 1 January 2016. When Noosa Council ran the facility, it was purely community-based, with no fees or commissions for exhibitions. The Cooroy Future Group has changed the business model significantly, primarily to generate new revenue streams which supplement the Council’s critical financial support towards the facility’s day to day running costs. Working staggered hours over six days each week, paid staff are supported by the Cooroy Future Group Inc Board who are all volunteers. From this Board, a voluntary Management Committee has been appointed to manage the day to day activities of the Butter Factory.
The members of the Board and Management Committee have brought much needed expertise from the business world to the running of the precinct. Their experience ranges from small business ownership to marketing, human resources and technical specialities. All Board members are passionate about the success and survival of the Butter Factory as an integral part of the Cooroy community.
As a consequence of the recent changes to the business model, the diversity in exhibitions over the last 15 months has seen the Butter Factory flourish, with a record 12,000 visitations in 2016. Local artists are delighted to have the opportunity to sell their works in THE SHOP @ bfac and the extra visitors also spend time in the town of Cooroy which of course supports local businesses. Council was positive about the first year’s outcomes and as a result, has awarded the Cooroy Future Group Inc tenure for another 3 + 3 years.
Many challenges were presented to the Management Committee in the early days, with talk of resistance to venue hire fees. There were also practical challenges such as installing telephone and internet access. We were very fortunate in being able to source excellent staff, some of whom had worked at the Butter Factory previously and were therefore aware of the building and its idiosyncrasies.
The main challenge for the Management Committee volunteers was the budget we inherited, with a minimal amount allocated for marketing and advertising. As a consequence, the Committee and staff sought low cost ways to actively promote the precinct through social media and word of mouth. Despite some initial concerns about venue hire fees, 2016 gallery spaces booked out very quickly; 2017 is fully booked; and 2018 is approximately 60 per cent booked. One of the biggest rewards is seeing the numbers of people coming to exhibition openings. Also the increasing numbers through the doors is heartening, as is the success of the retail shop.
As volunteers, my fellow Committee members and I have learned that to bring about real and lasting change to your organisation, you need belief in your project, hard work, dedication and consistency, and most of all, passion.
Carol Watkins is a Member of the Board of Cooroy Future Group Inc and a Member of the Management Committee of the Cooroy Butter Factory Arts Centre. For 13 years Carol successfully owned and operated a small business, a recruitment consultancy. Previously she was employed as a Human Resources and Marketing Manager for an internationally renowned architectural firm. She is also a Deputy Controller in the Noosa SES where she has been involved for over 13 years. In 2014 she was recipient of The Minister’s Cup as State Member of the Year for the SES. Carol is also a keen potter.
Images courtesy Cooroy Butter Factory Arts Centre.