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The $7.6m refurbishment of the Grafton Regional Gallery is on track to be completed by the end of the year, however, the usual NSW Government funding to administer arts programs has been withdrawn. In summary, the project delivers refurbishment to the existing studio, gallery and function space (282 sqm); the addition of the new gallery space (548 sqm); the addition of a new collection and conservation space (146 sqm); and associated works. Image: CVC Image: CVC

CVC denied expected art gallery funding

With the $7.6 million refurbishment of the Grafton Regional Gallery well advanced, Create NSW’s rejection of Clarence Valley Council’s (CVC) application for annual program funding has come as a shock; in fact, it’s “the first time ever” the gallery has been unsuccessful, gallery director Niomi Sands advised councillors at yesterday’s CVC meeting.

“Normally Council gets around $70,000 to help run programs from the NSW Government,” she wrote.

“These programs generally support local artists programs and outreach and are particularly important given the impacts of COVID to support the struggling local arts community.”

Speaking with the Independent, Ms Sands said missing out on the funding has “put us back two years”.

“It’s had a major effect on what we had planned; we had to stop all we had in train, look at [the revised budget] and what we can deliver,” she said.

“It will have a far reach in terms of what we can deliver – local artist workshops for example.

“However, [it’s important to us] to support the local arts community and we are looking at other options.

“We’ve developed a lot of programs over the past two years to support and engage with creativity in the community.

“We had plans to build on that with the new gallery and to set a new course and reach the potential we were not able to before.”

The gallery has successfully applied for annual program funding for the past 20 years, the result of which has “directly engaged artists both locally and within NSW to create and present new artwork or present workshops/activities that benefit the local community”, the report to council stated.

“The Gallery supports a high percentage of artists who reside in our LGA through this funding, which has a positive impact on the economic development of creative industries in our region.

“Over the past two years, in line with the business plan, the Gallery has been on track … to meet its long-term visitation and financial outcomes.”

The Grafton gallery is not alone, however, with other “local government … organisations [that] regularly received Create NSW funding (Hawkesbury Regional Gallery and Museum, Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, Glasshouse Regional Gallery, Fairfield Regional Gallery and many more) unsuccessful”, the report to council stated.

“Twenty-nine of 62 applicants were successful in securing full or part funding for a limited time only.

“Feedback on unsuccessful submitted applications has been ambiguous and not detailed.

“It maybe that because Council is still constructing the new Gallery (we might add with $7.6 million of support from the NSW Government, which we are grateful for) that this influenced the decision, but such feedback is not available.

“… the Gallery is now looking for alternative funding sources and will endeavour to submit a project funding application.”

Councillors will have most likely supported Ms Sands’ recommendation to “write to the Premier of NSW, the local Member for Clarence and the NSW Minister for the Arts, detailing the impact the change in funding support will have on regional NSW and for residents of the Clarence Valley and, in particular, the struggling local art movement, due to the impacts of the drought, the 2019 bushfires which affected 50 per cent of our local government area, a flood in February 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Note: this story was written prior to the September 23 CVC meeting.