IT WAS almost six years ago when former Newcastle MP Tim Owen said, in his first speech to parliament, that he wanted to secure funding for the expansion of the city’s art gallery.
“While Newcastle is known around the country for our great sportsmen and women and industrial pursuits, it has produced some outstanding artists of all ilks,” Mr Owen told the parliament in 2011.
“I do not believe enough attention or money has been invested into harnessing the talents of our creative men and women.
“The time has come for this to change.”
Though Mr Owen was able to make good on some of his other priorities during his short stint in parliament, the art gallery was not one of them.
Instead, the gallery’s redevelopment – or lack of – has become, like the figs and the rail line, another contested narrative in Newcastle’s recent history.
Depending on where you stand, you might blame the state government for refusing to come through with the $7 million in funding required to make the project a reality back in 2013.
You might blame the previous council for reportedly getting its sums wrong on the actual cost of the project.
You might blame former lord mayor Jeff McCloy for using money set aside for the project to pay down the council’s debt.
Or you might blame the former federal Labor government for pulling the $7 million it promised for the project and spending it on the Glendale Interchange.
Or you might blame no one, and instead use new Arts Minister Don Harwin’s comment that he’s interested in hearing the council’s plan for the proposal as a reason for hope.
As Cathy Tate, who has probably done more than anyone to push for the redevelopment, said in 2015, “all that is in the past”.
“I want to start talking about how it can be done and not about why it didn’t happen,” Ms Tate said at the time.
Indeed. And the truth is that there is no reason that it cannot.
The state government has more than enough left in its cultural infrastructure fund to pay for the project, and a new minister who is at least receptive to the idea.
All that we need now is a council – and a city – that can prosecute the case for why some of the money should be spent here. As Mr Owen said, it is time for the prospect’s of the city’s arts community to change.