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Gallery fights for survival

Friends of the Gallery Incorporated’s treasurer, Mark Thompson, addresses the crowd. Image: Chloe van Dorp
The Grafton Regional Gallery is set to lose up to $300,000 in annual funding if Clarence Valley Council (CVC) sticks to its review of the valley’s galleries and museums. The council’s improvement strategies document – on exhibition until 4pm this Friday – proposes to make the cut in the 2018/19 financial year, and has factored further cuts of $7,500 and $7,688 over the two subsequent years. The council’s service plans for 2017/18 –also currently on exhibition – state that the gallery’s net cost is $607,335, and that the gallery’s total income is $86,947. On Thursday June 8, around 50 people attended a meeting called by the Gallery Foundation. “In just under a week the future of the Grafton Regional Gallery will be decided on by Clarence Valley Council,” the foundation’s media release stated. “In order for council to meet the State Government’s Fit for the Future guidelines a proposal to cut the Grafton Regional Gallery funding by 50 per cent will be decided on. “Community … submissions protesting this proposed reduction in funding are due to council in writing by Friday 16th June, hence the urgency of the gathering of community support.” Mayor Jim Simmons said he “respected and appreciated” those at the meeting and their motivation for attending. “I look forward to having meetings with your supporter groups, as a couple of speakers have mentioned here, [so] we can work through the issue and come up with a business plan and that sort of thing,” he said. He said that councillors would receive “the acting GM’s report on those consultations” at the June 27 council meeting. Councillor Simmons noted that the months of January, February and March this year “showed a substantial decrease in the numbers” of people attending the gallery. Councillor Andrew Baker reportedly told those gathered that attendance figures had fallen from around 54,000 in 2009 to 19,000 in 2014. The gallery’s 2010 – 2014 strategic plan puts the 2009/10 attendance at 40,000 people; by 2012/13 the attendance had fallen to 30,000. However, the document notes that “the impact of no café in 2012-13 is evident; however, attendance is expected to show signs of recovery in 2013-14”. In 2012 the council and then operators of Georgie’s Cafe were unable to resolve a dispute when CVC insisted on raising the rent by 33 per cent and subsequently, after negotiations, 14.4 per cent. How and when the cafe is run and when it is open has been fraught ever since. The current lessee “walked out, no notice, no nothing”, according to the Gallery Foundation’s secretary Helyn Davison. The original lessee ran Georgie’s as a successful and vibrant establishment for 11 years. “We put it fairly and squarely on the fact that [the gallery] was always a meeting place when the restaurant was there,” Ms Davison said, when asked why the numbers had fallen recently. “Quite often the restaurant was closed or people pulled up and it was closed.” She said the foundation has a petition opposing the proposed cuts and said “we are encouraging people on our mailing list, Friends of Gallery, and people in the community to write in if they believe it is an unfair cut – most people would accept the SRV [to reduce gallery funding], but the cuts are proposed regardless”. See below for story on the Gallery Foundation’s case for retaining funding.