THE Newcastle Art Gallery is a public institution. The origins of public support for it go back prior to World War II. It was created for the people, by the people and must remain in this sphere.
My own first visit to the gallery brought me face-to-face with original Van Gogh self-portraits that left me speechless. The then-director, Gil Docking, took the trouble to lead me to an understanding of these, and later many other artworks.
Years after, I attended the National Art School and became an art teacher. On visits to the city over the next 50 years, the gallery was first stop, as its collection of modern Australian art grew second to none.
Fifty years ago, the CBD was a scene of live theatre, cinemas, small business outlets, restaurants and cafes, hung with local art, which hosted live acoustic music. The same dead hand of corporate bureaucracy that has turned it into an abandoned movie lot now wishes to control all functions of the gallery.
The recent gallery fiasco began with a unilateral decision at the highest level of council to stop a well-designed and long overdue gallery extension, block a generous federal grant, avoid a tiny rate increase in case the state government failed to show that Newcastle’s art gallery was as worthy as Sydney’s, and offer an unacceptable slipshod alternative.
It also allowed the $6million set aside by two previous councils to be diverted to other purposes.
The sacking and gagging of dedicated staff and their denigration was handled by a misinformation campaign in the press that led to a total lack of public awareness in the city.
Members of the public who, like myself, have benefited so much from the creation of Newcastle’s gallery, must strongly defy all attempts to attack, fragment and, as many of us fear, allow them to pass into private hands, like so many others of the nation’s once renowned and revered public services.