Little did Jacqueline Clayton know when she travelled from Sydney to visit Newcastle Art Gallery in 1980 that staring at a ceramic bowl would change the direction of her life.
The art school graduate heard Newcastle had an internationally significant collection of Japanese ceramics, particularly pieces from a movement known as Sodeisha, so she wanted to see it. What Ms Clayton saw, as she peered into a bowl by artist Sueharu Fukami, was her future.
“It was one of those pieces that I found absolutely hypnotic; it was a pivotal moment in my artistic life,” Ms Clayton said. She pursued a career in pottery.
Jacqueline Clayton and her partner Paul Davis are renowned ceramic artists, having worked and studied in Japan. The couple have recently moved to Newcastle to set up a studio.
They firmly believe Newcastle Art Gallery needs to be expanded, so that more of its collection can be permanently displayed. Otherwise, they say, people miss out on what Ms Clayton experienced, and the city is losing an opportunity to be a major cultural tourist destination.
“This [ceramics] collection is world class, and it’s locked away in boxes in the store room,” Mr Davis says.
“We tell our colleagues and friends in Japan about the collection and they say, ‘We’ll fly over for a look’, but we have to tell them unless you make arrangements in advance, you won’t get to see it.”
“I have absolutely no doubt it would attract Japanese visitors, and visitors from other parts of the world,” Ms Clayton adds.
The controversy surrounding the art gallery redevelopment proposal has flared again, with the state’s Arts Minister Don Harwin announcing $244 million for the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney and a $100 million regional cultural fund, but nothing for the Newcastle project.
A spokesman for the minister said earlier this week Mr Harwin was waiting for a revised pitch from Newcastle City Council.
Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes has confirmed the council has submitted an updated business case to the government, seeking $26 million, which is the estimated full amount of the project.
Cr Nelmes says the project is “shovel ready” and could be built in 18 months once funding is approved.
Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp says he is “flabbergasted” that the government hasn’t allocated funding to the project, when “the second biggest city in the state has been crying out for years”.
“This is the missing link in the whole rejuvenated, revitalised precinct,” he says.
“I can’t think of any logical reason why we’re not progressing on this issue. Is it purely political?”
Renew Newcastle general manager, Christopher Saunders, says the stalling of the redevelopment has been “a great tragedy” for the city.
“It’s not helpful for the bigger picture of [Newcastle’s] identity and culture,” Mr Saunders says.