Newcastle council appears to be no closer to receiving state government support for its planned expansion of the Newcastle Art Gallery, despite increasing its contribution toward the estimated $39 million project to $16 million.
Arts Minister Don Harwin, who was in Newcastle on Saturday to open the gallery's new WARWAR exhibition, featuring more than 130 works and cultural artifacts from the Torres Strait, said he had written to Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes to thank her for council's increased contribution towards the gallery expansion, but added that there was still no funding programs available for which the project would be eligible.
The Newcastle Herald has reported previously that city is not eligible for the Regional Cultural Fund, which has backed projects like $20 million for a conservatorium of music recital hall in Wagga Wagga. And nor is it eligible to take advantage of around $100 million in the Arts Maintenance and Upgrade Fund (AMU), which has been used for projects like $18 million dollars for the National Arts School at Darlinghurst, and works to build a new auditorium and photography gallery at the NSW State Library.
"The AMU is not a fund," Mr Harwin said, "It is actually restart money from the COVID-19 pandemic, and because it is just for capital works, it can really only be spent on assets that the government owns. So, most of the money therefore necessarily has to go into state cultural institutions or state significant organisations like Carriageworks or the Museum of Contemporary Art, or the National Arts School.
"If there is any money that is left over, then I will have a talk to the treasurer to see if he would be prepared to convert it into grants for independent arts organisations or local government, but to be perfectly frank I don't expect that there will be much left over."
Mr Harwin reiterated comments that he was in conversation with colleagues over what, if anything, should replace the Regional Culture Fund when it expires on June 30, but would not be drawn on the possibility that a replacement fund would be included in the next state budget, due on June 22.
"I'm not in a position to say anything more until state budget day," Mr Harwin said, "But I have always said publicly that I believe something should replace the Regional Cultural Fund when it comes to the end of its four-year work."
Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation would provide $10 million from a bequest by long-time supporter Valerie Ryan and another $2.5 million in fundraising, leaving the government to put up the remaining $10 million for the $39.2 million project.
While the gallery expansion may not be eligible for money from either the Regional Cultural Fund, nor the AMU, gallery director Lauretta Morton noted during her address on Saturday to open the new WARWAR exhibition that the Newcastle Art Gallery has found support in the state's Create NSW program, without money from which it would not have been able to host such an extensive and significant exhibition as the one opened at the weekend.
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