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  • Apr 02, 2013

Funding MIA for Sydney Modern?

Aerial view of AGNSW, 2013.

On March 6, Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) announced plans to transform the museum into a global institution, doubling its exhibition space and dramatically expanding its collection. The Gallery aims to complete the project by 2021, in time to celebrate its 150th anniversary. Although forthcoming in its vision, AGNSW has remained silent on the project's funding.

“[The Gallery] is woefully ill-equipped for the 21st century and lags well behind its peers,” said Stephen Lowy, president of the Gallery’s board of trustees, who was accompanied at the press conference by newly arrived director Michael Brand. To remedy the situation, AGNSW proposes expanding northward into land near the popular Royal Botanic Garden and Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, a historic landmark that sits on a rocky outcrop overlooking the harbor.

A name change might also be in the cards. "Sydney Modern" is the working title that “captures the essence,” according to Lowy, of what the Gallery's directors hope to achieve with the transformation.

Initial calculations, published last October in a New South Wales infrastructure reportestimate that the project will cost AUD 400 million. At the press conference, however, Lowy avoided a discussion of financial matters, insisting: “Today is about the vision.”

Three weeks from the launch of the program, however, no money—state, federal or private—has been pledged.

The NSW minister for the arts has issued an official statement that the government “cannot guarantee funding,” though it encourages the Gallery to “conduct the appropriate feasibility studies and then possibly progress to initial design.” Similarly, the board of trustees at the AGNSW has not made any immediate financial commitment.

Simon Mordant, one of Sydney’s most high profile and generous philanthropists, expressed disappointment in The Australian that the trustees of AGNSW had not presented a financial plan alongside the blueprint. 

Martin Browne, Sydney gallery owner, endorsed Mordant's view and was surprised that the AGNSW trustees “selectively and individually did not stump up any seed funding,” which is estimated at AUD 5 million.

AGNSW trustee David Baffsky showed less concern over such fiscal matters. “There is plenty of money around for a project like this. Funding is really a side issue. We don’t even have a project yet. What we are trying to do is follow a logical process of scoping out what we really need, then going to costs, then design.”

In an interview this week, Brand agreed that “this is a very ambitious project,” but was quick to note that its scale is comparable to overseas projects.“Sydney is a global city and we have to behave like a global institution.” Brand comes to AGNSW with a good track record for raising funds—bringing USD 125 million to Virginia Museum of Fine Art in the early 2000s—and remains optimistic about future financing. 

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