The NSW Coalition government will contribute $244 million to fund the Sydney Modern plan at the Art Gallery of NSW, according to The Sydney Morning Herald report tonight. The commitment is apparently contained in the NSW Budget to be presented to State Parliament on Tuesday 20 June.
Any major contribution to the arts is welcome; the sector has been starved of adequate funding for decades, by both sides of politics.
I believe nonetheless that there are dangers ahead. Expansion on this scale cannot possibly succeed without a major improvement in recurrent funding over the coming decades, running to many hundreds of millions of dollars. Will the State Government commit to picking up the bill for the projected 240 additional jobs and for maintenance, heating and lighting for the next 50 years?
The concerns expressed by supporters of the Art Gallery and summarised in my book Culture Heist: Art versus Money remain entirely valid. The business case for Sydney Modern appears to rely heavily on commercial revenue, turning the Art Gallery into a corporate function centre. And if bureaucratisation, commercialism and outsourcing are allowed to continue at the present rate, the curatorial culture required to make the new building a success will be impossible to regenerate.
The Trustees and management of the Art Gallery must now address the concerns of the institution’s supporters by ending the cult of secrecy and engaging in the widest possible public consultation about how the expansion is to be achieved. The future of our public cultural institutions is too important to be decided behind closed doors. Let the government-appointed Trustees make a new start by publishing the minutes of their proceedings and regular summaries of their business plan and of how the $244 million taxpayer grant will be spent.