Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation hopes a $10 million bequest will be a "game-changer" in winning government support for the art space's long-awaited expansion.
Gallery patron Valerie Ryan died in November at the age of 94, leaving a $10 million share portfolio to the foundation and $10 million to the Hunter Medical Research Institute.
Gallery foundation chair Suzie Galwey said nothing in the endowment prevented it being used to help expand the council-owned gallery, a project mired in politics for more than a decade.
The foundation and the community had raised more than $1 million towards the expansion before receiving the bequest.
"This really is a game-changer in terms of the local community to be able to contribute, so I would hope that all levels of government would be much more willing and inclined to come forward to support the project," Ms Galwey said.
"There's been no decision made on how it will be used yet, but obviously the foundation is a strong supporter of the gallery expansion, and Valerie Ryan was as well.
"But there's no commitment as to how much will be used at this point from the foundation perspective towards a gallery expansion."
City of Newcastle flirted last year with the idea of moving the gallery into City Hall, but its preferred option is for the state and federal governments to fund the expansion of the existing building.
The foundation is a charity independent from the council, but Ms Galwey said the two organisations had a "good relationship, and we'll be working with all levels of government".
Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes made no secret of her preference to direct the bequest towards the expansion.
"If the valuable bequest is dedicated to the gallery's expansion, it could significantly bolster our efforts to seek state and federal funding to finally get on with the $36 million project," she said in a council statement.
"It will extend the 43-year-old building east and along Darby Street to Queen Street with a stunning glass facade that will draw people into a new street-level café, retail shop and exhibition space below a sprawling first-floor area."
The NSW government included the gallery expansion in its Cultural Infrastructure Plan 2025 in February last year but has not committed money to the project.
The gallery foundation will hold Ms Ryan's bequest in trust to be dedicated to the gallery collection or building project.
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