POLL: Art gallery funds hopes dashed

The state government cannot afford to give $7million towards a $21million new Newcastle Regional Art Gallery, Arts Minister George Souris says.

Asked by Labor during a recent budget estimates hearing when it would support the project, Mr Souris said he was aware the federal government had allocated funding for the gallery as had occurred with a project in Albury.

Newcastle City Council had pledged the same amount.

‘‘However, currently no NSW government funding is available to support these very worthy projects due to the tight fiscal environment, however much we would all like to assist those two galleries,’’ Mr Souris said.

Hopes of any state funding now seems to rest with an application lodged with the board of the Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund. Newcastle MP Tim Owen has supported the submission.

Minister for the Hunter Mike Gallacher told a separate estimates hearing the board was still considering the application, as well as those for other projects.

Wallsend Labor MP Sonia Hornery said the government had suggested, if not explicitly, that it would back the art gallery and should follow through.

Mr Souris’s comments come after the government announced it would no longer subsidise fine arts courses at TAFE because of low completion rates and poor job prospects.

But gallery director Ron Ramsey said yesterday the lack of government funds so far for the new gallery would not delay the project.

He said the construction of the gallery was  expected to begin mid next year.

He said the council would underwrite the project, meaning the state government did not need to contribute a lump sum before work started but could support it when money became available.

‘‘We firmly believe it is a great opportunity, a project of great economic and cultural benefit to the community,’’ he said.

The new gallery could open in late 2014, which would be about six months out from the 2015 state election.

Plans for the new gallery were approved in April.

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