Creative director of Varuna has resigned

Stepped in: Acting creative director Susan Hayes has temporarily replaced Helen Loughlin. She is pictured here with general manager, Veechi Stuart, at Varuna, The Writers' House in Katoomba.
Stepped in: Acting creative director Susan Hayes has temporarily replaced Helen Loughlin. She is pictured here with general manager, Veechi Stuart, at Varuna, The Writers' House in Katoomba.

The creative director of Varuna, The Writers’ House at Katoomba, has unexpectedly resigned just three months into her contract.

No reasons were given for the departure of Helen Loughlin, who was appointed late last year. The chairman of the board, David White, said he was unable to comment.

Board member Susan Hayes has been appointed in an acting role. Ms Hayes is a past director of the Literature Board of the Australia Council.

But the surprise resignation has led to a call for the board to publicly explain its direction.

The foundation creative director, Peter Bishop, called for the public debate in a letter to the Gazette (see p23).

Mr Bishop said the board of the Eleanor Dark Foundation was not accountable to any membership so was not obliged to announce the resignation nor to answer any questions about why it happened.

He invited the chairman to debate him about Varuna’s future.

“It’s time the board was elected and was simply accountable to the people,” Mr Bishop said.

He was concerned at the recent appointment of a business manager alongside the creative director.

“It’s a fundamental change” which should be discussed, he said.

“It [the board] really is a self-appointed oligarchy and that’s not a good look for a publicly-funded operation.”

But chairman David White said Varuna was accountable to its funding bodies – Arts NSW and the Australia Council – and had to comply with Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) requirements.

He said the new general manager position was created to deal with increasingly complicated grant issues, reporting needs and other business demands.

“To have someone dedicated to that side of our enterprise was a lay down misere to us … and also frees the creative director to do all of the things she couldn’t do.”

Mr White confirmed that there were no “members” of Varuna apart from the board but it had been set up that way by Mick Dark, the son of Eleanor and Eric Dark, who bequeathed Varuna to the writers of Australia.

But the constitution has now been amended so there can be a membership base.

He rejected Mr Bishop’s call for a public meeting, saying there was nothing for the public to consider.

“We are accountable to our funders and the ACNC and there’s nothing for a public meeting to discuss. Our funders know what goes on at Varuna and have complete confidence in the way that we’re doing it.”

Ms Hayes acknowledged the board had not been “doing as much in the local community as we would like” but that was being addressed.