The In Focus Exhibition on display in the Grafton Regional Gallery's courtyard.
The In Focus Exhibition on display in the Grafton Regional Gallery's courtyard. Simon Hughes

Council slashes gallery funding

IN THE same week as the Grafton Regional Gallery announced record entries in their national art prize and secured Ken Done to judge it, news of council budget cuts could see this award, and the future success of the gallery in jeopardy.

The news announced to volunteers and supporters by gallery director Jude McBean this week revealed cuts that would abolish of the gallery's curatorial position - which will effect future programs and the gallery's ability to secure state funding - and the loss of the gallery's acquisition fund - disabling the growth of the public collection which includes the acclaimed Jacaranda Acquistive Drawing Award.

The three-day a week curator's role and the $23,000 annual acquisition budget have been dropped as part of the Executive of Council approving the restructure of cultural services according to Ms McBean.

Pam Fysh, a long time gallery supporter and part of the original team that got the gallery up and running in 1985, said they were "devastated" when they heard about the decision.

"We cannot understand how council cannot appreciate the value of the gallery as a cultural, educational and tourist facility. It's such a vital asset and the heart and soul of culture in the Clarence," Mrs Fysh said.

"Council should be grateful for what those hundreds of volunteers do for the council-owned building in order to support their asset and the greater community.

"Just this morning I had the pleasure of opening an exhibition featuring seven schools. There were hundreds of kids there and all so enthusiastic."

President of the Friends of the Gallery Heather Brown has been involved in the Clarence arts community since 1973 and reiterated the devastation felt by volunteers and supporters.

"I have a very heavy heart at the moment. I feel this council cannot appreciate a cultural centre because it's not their thing. They are more interested in filling pot holes. That's not what community is about," Mrs Brown said.

"It feels like the gallery collection is a liability for this council, and I'm at a loss to know which direction to take."

Clarence Valley Council Director Environment, Planning and Community Des Schroder said the gallery cuts weren't determined by the executive but as a result of "identified efficiency".

"The identified saving for the galleries and museum area was $25,000 (4% of the gallery budget). In addition Council decided as part of the June budget decisions to not fund the capital art purchases for 2016/17," Mr Schroder said.

He said the Executive then implemented the Council's resolutions and as part of a review of the structure of the Social and Cultural Services which resulted in the deletion of one of the four positions in the gallery.

"The reality is when Council is forced to make budget cuts some cuts in services need to be made to balance the budget, which has been well advertised over the last 12 months. The overall budget adopted for the gallery and museum still exceeds $550,000."

He also said in relation to the collection that council "hasn't the storage to house existing works in a satisfactory manner, and have reached their capacity, so some rationalisation of works may be needed".

He also said the impact of the effects of these cuts with things like tourism "was marginal" and the JADA was a decision for the gallery director and community funding parters to make.

"The important issue is the budget overall must be balanced."

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