In 1997 the Belconnen community first began meeting to explore the idea of having an arts and cultural centre for the north west of Canberra, given the area was by then well established and populated with educational, government and growing businesses.
By 1999, the ACT Government began consultations on its Territory wide Cultural Plan presenting the opportunity for the community to once again present ideas for a cultural centre and from this establishing a group, mainly of artists but also other community members.
By this time, the Tuggeranong Arts Centre had been built and it was clear that the ACT was emerging as a strong artistic community with practitioners recognized nationally and internationally. The Australian National University’s School of Art was producing many professional artists and musicians who were and are still leaving Canberra in order to make their professional arts life sustainable.
The main institutions such as the Canberra Museum and Art Gallery and the National Theatre had been established but were not necessarily featuring ACT artists. Various arts based organisations were growing the demand for arts facilities and spaces to operate from. Out of this demand grew the Gorman House Arts Centre, Megalo Print Workshop, ANCA gallery and workshops and Watson Arts Centre for the Canberra Potters Society. The Street Theatre was built to provide a venue for developing and presenting local professional theatre and the inner City Arts Precinct began to emerge by 2005.
The national growth of community arts centres serving broader communities has also increased significantly over the past fifteen years, a trend that has been creating demand for arts activities and access by local communities across the country.
Throughout this time, Belconnen Community Service also grew the arts programs they were offering including the development of exhibitions in their small gallery space at the Community Centre curated by various guest curators and coordinators. The theatre also grew the program of activities and took on a major new initiative through the employment of a Community Arts Officer funded by the ACT Government. It was the work of Jan Wawrcencak (dec.) that assisted greatly in the development plans for the new arts centre. Jan could clearly identify the unmet needs of the Belconnen community and how these might be serviced.
The Belconnen Arts Centre has been developed through a program of consultation in 2004 and subsequently through the input of two specially-established advisory groups which include representation from local arts and community stakeholders. The construction of the building has arisen from a clearly identified need to provide an arts facility for the Belconnen community to meet unmet needs in the area and for arts practise in the ACT in general.
The ACT Government allocated $9 million in the 2007-08 Budget to complete design and construction of Stage One of the centre that remains the property of the ACT government and is managed by Belconnen Arts Centre Incorporated through a Licence and Deed of Grant with artsACT.