PLANS to shake up the management of the Newcastle Art Gallery were ‘‘appalling’’, ‘‘anti-art’’ and ‘‘almost bogan’’, one of Australia’s leading arts administrators said yesterday.
National Gallery of Australia director Ron Radford said he felt obliged to speak publicly about the situation in Newcastle, which was now common knowledge among arts administrators.
Mr Radford was referring to the situation facing Newcastle gallery director Ron Ramsey, who had been considered unlikely to retain his position in a rationalisation of the council’s senior management across the city’s gallery, museum and Civic Theatre.
Compounding the controversy, Mr Ramsey and the council’s future city director, Judy Jaeger, were stood aside from their positions last week by Newcastle City Council general manager Ken Gouldthorp, who did not offer any alleged reasons for the move due to confidentiality reasons.
Mr Ramsey and his boss, Ms Jaeger, were suspended on full pay.
The Newcastle Herald does not suggest they have done anything wrong.
Mr Radford said the art world was stunned by the goings-on in Newcastle, which he believed would cost the gallery in reputation and income.
Mr Ramsey was acclaimed when he first moved to Newcastle in late 2007 from Mr Radford’s national gallery, where he had been a deputy director.
But Mr Gouldthorp stood by his decisions to change the management structure, saying yesterday the public had called for the council to cut costs.
‘‘The Newcastle community has repeatedly asked for the administration to reduce staffing in management and this is what is happening," Mr Gouldthorp said. "All of our cultural institutions have quality, specialist staff and the suggestion that these staff are anything but professional is offensive."
Mr Radford stood by comments he made to ABC local radio, saying the council appeared "antiquated and anti-arts and . . . almost bogan".
"The context of me saying that was that they had just got rid of the position of director of the gallery when it's the various gallery directors who have built Newcastle's fabulous collection over many decades," Mr Radford said.
"The politicians and the bureaucrats haven't built the collection in the national gallery in Canberra - it's been put together by curators and gallery directors.
"Newcastle gallery's collection is probably the single most valuable asset in the city but it was put together by the expertise of its directors, who have worked with artists and their contacts over the years - it has not been built by councillors or bureaucrats."
Mr Radford said the art world worked on personal relationships and Newcastle would struggle to attract major exhibitions, or have major works donated, without a stand-alone gallery director.
Sydney Morning Herald art critic John McDonald has also defended Mr Ramsey, while a Newcastle Herald critic, Una Rey, ruffled feathers when she said Mr Ramsey should shoulder some blame for the gallery's problems and a lack of connection with the wider arts community.
Mr Radford said working artists always criticised museum galleries: "I know that Ron has helped young Newcastle artists but in general terms, artists have the Australia Council, and the public has the galleries."