Path prompts Sculpture by the Sea dispute

This year's Sculpture by the Sea could be the last at Bondi.
This year's Sculpture by the Sea could be the last at Bondi.

A bitter row has broken out between organisers of Sydney's Sculpture by the Sea event and a local council over a path aimed at improving disability access.

Founding director David Handley has threatened to pull the event from Bondi because of a planned 279m concrete footpath around Marks Park that he believes will interfere with the popular exhibition.

The art festival on the coastal walk between Bondi and Tamarama attracts nearly half a million people every Spring.

Mr Handley claimed that, while a noble goal, the path would take out eight of the 10 prime spots that give the event its "wow" factor and would lead to the festival's "very slow and painful death".

"The path totally puts a kibosh on the exhibition and rips the guts out of it," Mr Handley said on Thursday.

"We are in a state of disbelief. It's unbelievable."

Mr Handley said organisers asked Waverley Council in May to at least stop work on the path until after this year's exhibition, from October 24 to November 10.

Artists spend up to $25,000 each to secure the best positions, according to Mr Handley, and millions of dollars and many months had already been spent planning the 2019 instalment.

He warned it would likely be the last at Bondi if the path proceeds.

More than 180 artists from 24 countries had written to council to oppose the path, describing it as an "international cultural disaster," Mr Handley added.

He is setting up a petition but in the meantime urged supporters to write to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

Waverley Council said it was surprised by the suggestion the event - which it has supported for 23 years - would be jeopardised by an accessible path.

General manager Ross McLeod said council consulted with organisers, whose feedback helped inform plans for the path.

"We do not accept the assertion that Sculpture by the Sea will have to relocate because of our accessible pathway," Mr McLeod said in a statement.

"Council's view is that services for people with disabilities outweighs some inconvenience and potential aesthetic impact over a small portion of the Sculpture by the Sea event which will still be free to use the park."

Disability organisations argued artwork shouldn't override the accessibility needs of a local community.

People with Disability Australia senior policy officer Samantha French said more effort could be made to look at how a "very valued and beautiful" exhibition could be retained while accessibility is enhanced.

"If this pathway ... has come out of a series of consultations with community members, including people with disabilities ... I would think that that needs to be the higher priority," Ms French said.

"If that means moving art sculptures to a different locale then that may need to happen."

A study by BIS Oxford Economics estimated visitors to the event contributed more than $11 million in direct spending to the local economy, plus the more broad contribution from interstate and international visitors.

NSW Labor arts spokesman Walt Secord called on the council to "reconcile" with organisers to ensure the exhibition stays at Bondi.

Australian Associated Press