Thursday, April 10, 2014


John Olsen The sea sun of 5 bells (1964) 366.4 x 179.0 x 9.8 cm oil on gesso on board, 3 panels each
Gift of Ann Lewis AO 2011

The Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation established in 1977. Its original members were prominent in the Newcastle business community or representatives of companies with important links to Newcastle.  It is a corporation under Australian company law. The Foundation is a Designated Gift Recipient (DGR) which enables benefactors to claim a tax deduction for  their donations.

 Its only purpose is to benefit the Gallery and the main way it does so is by accepting monetary donations from individuals and corporations.  The funds are generally, but not exclusively, used for the acquisition of works of art. Thus the Foundation can purchase or assist in the purchase of works of art that are then given to the Gallery and become part of the Gallery’s collection. The Foundation was a sponsor of the 2013 travelling exhibition “Illumination: the Art of Philip Wolfhagen”, a collaboration between Newcastle Art Gallery and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

To become a member one has to make a donation to the Foundation (NAGF). The size of the donation determines the class of membership. For example, to join as a Fellow Member of the Foundation requires a donation of $5000 whereas a General Membership requires a donation of just $500.

Newcastle City Council  (NCC) is a corporate Member of the Foundation and appoints one member to the board of directors of the Foundation.  A change to the Foundation’s constitution requires a vote of 75% and NCC has a vote of 26%. This feature has led some to conclude that Council controls the Foundation but this is not correct.

While NCC appoints one member of the board of directors, a Councillor, it would seem that under corporate law a board member is required to act in the interests of the Foundation, notwithstanding his or her obligations to the NCC. It is also questionable as to whether that Councillor is legally able to advise the NCC of the deliberations of the board of directors without explicit board approval.

The Art Gallery Director is ex-officio a member of the Foundation board. It is also possible that the previously mentioned constraints would also apply to him or her in terms of disclosing board matters to others.

Other Directors are elected by the Foundation members. These men and women offer their time and expertise willingly and without financial benefit.  The Board of Directors appoints a Chairman and other office bearers.  All board members have one vote on the resolutions of the board. All board members receive a copy of the minutes of board meetings.

Over the years a number of people have volunteered a great deal of their time and expertise and have raised many millions of dollars to augment and improve the Newcastle Art Gallery Collection, the property of Newcastle City Council. The Foundation has also been the recipient of significant gifts from individuals as benefactions and as bequests. 


The Newcastle Art Gallery was essentially created by the donation of a group of works by Dr Roland Pope in 1945. For many years it was housed in the eastern wing of the War Memorial Cultural Centre, now Newcastle City Library. The NCC received a grant of $1 million in 1975 as a Federal Government grant via the Hunter Regional Organisation. Effectively the other local government authorities in the Region agreed that a large portion of the available funds should go to Newcastle and this funded most, if not all, of the cost of construction of the gallery. The new gallery was opened by the Queen in 1977.

With leadership provided by a succession of bold and visionary Directors, the collection grew over the years. Benefactors provided for the greater part of this growth, either by gifting of works of art to the Gallery or by monetary gifts to the Foundation.  The Gallery has always relied on the generosity of individuals (including William Bowmore, Margaret Olley, Anne von Bertouch,  Anne Lewis, Keith Clouton and Jim Deas) and corporations including some major coal companies to acquire important works. Donations large and small have been received from Novocastrians and from friends of this city. It is important to note that some significant recent donors were introduced to the Gallery by Ron Ramsey.

Space limitations in the gallery were becoming obvious in the nineties and extremely problematic by early in this century.  Insufficient space meant that only a very small part of the Gallery’s collection could be displayed at any one time and there was increasing demand for storage and exhibition space. This led to a series of proposals to extend the Gallery, commencing some ten years ago.

In 2004 NCC embarked on a project to redevelop the Newcastle Region Art Gallery. The redevelopment project was designed to ensure the needs of the Gallery were met well into the future.  At that stage the projected capital cost was estimated at $37.3 million (at completion) which was made up of $5 million from the Civic and Cultural Precinct reserve with the remainder to be obtained from external sources. In 2006 a national design competition was conducted for a major redevelopment of the then Newcastle Region Art Gallery in the existing location on an extended footprint. This was won by LAB Architects, but the projected cost of about $35 million (blowing out to $50 million plus) was recognised as unrealistic.

In 2006, NCC, with advice from Gallery Director Ron Ramsey, agreed on a proposal for a more modest redevelopment with a budgeted cost of $21 million. The proposal relied on the conventional expectation of tripartite funding, based on the idea of the three levels of government (federal, state, local) sharing the cost.

There had also been a reduction in maintenance of the gallery over a number of years because of the expectation that a redevelopment would proceed.

An application was lodged with the Commonwealth for their share ($7 million). In September 2011 the Commonwealth agreed to fund its share. Both sides of state politics appeared to commit to the funding proposal prior to the 2011 elections when both Labor and Liberal candidates publicly expressed their support for the project.

The Council included the Gallery Extension as one of nine infrastructure projects when they sought a special rate increase. The Independent  Regulatory and Pricing Tribunal (IPART) effectively endorsed the proposal by granting the Council a 5% rate increase over and above the normal amount allowed for inflation. This ensured that Council had sufficient funds to meet its share of the project.

Detailed plans were prepared to provide a redevelopment which would fall within the budget and fulfil the basic requirements of more exhibition space, more storage, an acceptable loading dock, a cafe, shop and facilities for events. This would have enabled the Gallery to host major touring exhibitions, to generate an increased proportion of its own costs, and to provide the appropriate storage and conservation facilities to protect its extensive collection. These plans were costed and DA approved.  The commencement date for the redevelopment was tentatively set at March 2013.

However, the NSW government announced that it was not prepared to provide the $7 million that had been requested of it.

It then became clear that the newly elected Lord Mayor (September 2012) and a majority of the Councillors (7 votes to 6) were not supportive of the redevelopment.

There followed months of discussion, claim and counter claim but all to no avail and eventually in mid 2013 the Commonwealth withdrew its offer.

The redevelopment was no more. A complete set of plans (which themselves cost in excess of $1 million) is gathering dust somewhere in City Hall.

Grounded 2009, a sculpture by renowned Sydney-based artist John Petrie


Well before he was elected Lord Mayor, Jeff McCloy put forward a proposal aimed at engendering an increase of public art in Newcastle based on a proposed agreement between Newcastle Council and the McCloy Group. Whilst it appears that no formal agreement was reached between the two, a very expensive professional brochure was produced.

This brochure had the logo of the McCloy Group and the City Council although it remains unclear if the use of the NCC logo was formally approved. The brochure lauded the ability of the Gallery staff and proposed the way the partnership would work. A key ingredient of the concept was the tax deductibility of the money or works donated within the partnership.

The problem with this proposal exists in the diagram showing how the program works where it indicates that the selection of the artist is a joint decision of the donor and the Newcastle Art Gallery. This cannot occur because it would make it a conditional donation and hence disqualify it from tax deductibility and possibly cost the Gallery its DGR status.

It seems that the public art partnership was trialled by Mr McCloy with a $50,000 donation to the Foundation to acquire a and publicly position an artwork . The fact that the donor could not be a partner in the artist selection seems to have caused a problem. The Gallery attempted to resolve this by offering Mr McCloy two positions on the selection committee. Neither  Mr McCloy or his daughter (who was involved in much of the negotiation)) chose to participate.

Public Art Partnerships has now disappeared without  explanation and a complete lack of interest by Newcastle media. Lord Mayor McCloy insists this has nothing to do with his attitude toward the Chairman of the Foundation, the former director of the Art Gallery or the future of the Gallery. There have however been numerous reports that Lord Mayor McCloy has been scathing in his criticism of Chairman Henderson and ex-director Ramsey. There have also been reports that Lord Mayor McCloy is partnering with Newcastle TAFE regarding art and/or design in public places.

Brett Whiteley Summer at Carcoar (1977) 244.0 x 198.7 cm oil and mixed media on pineboard
Gift of Dr William Bowmore AO, OBE through the Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation 1977


The Brett Whitely Foundation was established under the auspices of the Art Gallery of NSW and has five directors. Two are appointed by the Brett Whiteley estate, two by the Art Gallery of NSW and an independent director, Mr John Meacock, who is a partner in Deloitte Australia. Mr Meacock is the Chairman of the Foundation.

Mrs Wendy Whiteley is a director. Its directors receive no remuneration.

It is a not-for-profit body which is tax-exempt and its main activity is to promote the works of Brett Whiteley. It is responsible for the Brett Whiteley Studio in Surrey Hills, and provides grants and scholarships to emerging artists. In its 2012 annual report it indicated that it had assets over $350,000.

Newcastle Art Gallery was the first gallery in Australia to purchase and display Whiteley when he was 19 years old. This helped  lead to the development of a strong relationship between Newcastle Art Gallery and the Brett Whiteley Foundation. The recent exhibition “Whiteley on Water” resulted from that relationship.

1 comment:

Find Handmade said...

Thank You! It's about time we all spent more time focusing on this!