Anger at likely loss of art gallery director: poll 

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ART lovers are up in arms about Newcastle City Council’s restructure of senior management, saying it will destroy the reputation of Newcastle Art Gallery.

The restructure coincides with news that the existing gallery director, Ron Ramsey, has secured the donation of an $850,000 Brett Whiteley sculpture for the gallery forecourt.

The chairman of the gallery’s fundraising foundation, Dr Robert Henderson, said Mr Ramsey had personally negotiated the donation of the sculpture by the artist’s widow, Wendy Whiteley.

Although the council is yet to publicly confirm the detail of the restructure, critics believe the gallery director’s role will be abolished and a ‘‘cultural facilities manager’’ appointed to oversee the gallery, Newcastle Museum and possibly the Civic Theatre.

Dr Henderson has written a scathing letter to Newcastle lord mayor Jeff McCloy about the impact on the gallery, saying the loss of a stand-alone director would ‘‘leave Newcastle open to ridicule and damage its reputation almost beyond redemption’’.

Dr Henderson said the foundation had raised the $40,000 or so needed to bring the sculpture to Newcastle from its present home at Millers Point, behind the proposed Barrangaroo development.

‘‘This will cost the council nothing,’’ Dr Henderson said last night.

‘‘Ron had been negotiating with Wendy and she wants to see it in Newcastle.’’

The art gallery dispute emerged last week after councillors voted in closed session to adopt a new management structure proposed by general manager Ken Gouldthorp.

Labor councillor Nuatali Nelmes said last night that she and other Labor councillors were considering lodging a recission motion on the restructure, although she acknowledged ‘‘we don’t have the numbers’’.

Cr Nelmes said she and the other councillors had ‘‘four minutes’’ to view the restructure before voting on it, which was a ‘‘totally unacceptable way’’ to expect democratic decisions to be made.

In a statement last night, Cr McCloy said the NSW Division of Local Government had confirmed the process as ‘‘appropriate and reasonable’’.

‘‘To claim council’s restructure is about one person (Mr Ramsey) is insulting to the 82 former staff affected by the restructure to date,’’ Cr McCloy said.

He confirmed that the latest phase of the restructure would result in 25 senior management positions cut to 19, which would all be advertised. 

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