NEWCASTLE City Hall erupted into applause – and then a standing ovation – last night.
It occurred when almost 300 people were showing their support for sacked former gallery director Ron Ramsey and his departmental boss, Judy Jaeger, at a public protest meeting held to condemn the restructure of Newcastle’s cultural institutions.
Mr Ramsey was not present at the meeting but a letter was read out on his behalf thanking everybody for the “great privilege” of serving six “wonderful years” in Newcastle.
One of the main points of discussion was the controversial acquisition of artist Brett Whiteley’s sculpture Black Totem II.
Gallery donor and artist Damien Minton said that across Australia the visual arts community was dismayed and appalled at what was happening in Newcastle.
“It comes very apparent to me that the current administration is playing the man not the ball,” he said.
“The amount Ron Ramsey was able to generate through the foundation should be something the council should be applauding.
“This current administration is in for a big fight.
“Not just from you but from people around Australia who understand this is a great asset.”
Former federal member for Newcastle Allan Morris talked about whether Mr Ramsey had done anything wrong from a legal point of view.
“The answer is that I think this donation is absolutely within the rules, within the intent of the rules and within good faith,” he said.
A letter written by 95-year-old Gil Docking, Newcastle Art Gallery’s first director, was also read out.
He questioned whether Mr Ramsey had acted contrary to his terms of employment.
“We are still waiting to hear,” he wrote.
Museums and Galleries NSW chief executive Michael Rolfe spoke about how plans to merge the roles of art gallery director and museum director were not in the interests of Newcastle.
He suggested council keep the leadership positions and have those people report to a library manager.
“There is widespread dismay of council’s proposed dismantling of current arrangements across culture facilities,’’ he said.
A number of resolutions were passed throughout the meeting, including the appreciation of Mr Ramsey’s and Ms Jaeger’s contributions and that Black Totem II was an “outstanding piece of work”.