A 30-year dream to bring a world-class regional gallery to the Southern Highlands looks set to become a reality by year’s end.
Wingecarribee Shire Council has granted conditional approval to fund $500,000 annual operational costs of a new regional art gallery over five years subject to the approval of $4.8 million in state government funding.
The proposed gallery would be established at the old dairy at Retford Park, the refurbishment funded by the NSW government’s Regional Cultural Fund.
Consultant Jennifer Bott, who conducted the project’s feasibility study, said one of the main reasons the stars aligned this time around was because of the “passion, perseverance and dedication” of Ben Quilty.
Mr Quilty is one of Australia’s most acclaimed contemporary artists and has been a Highlands resident for more than 12 years.
“There has been a lot of effort from many people for many years, but Ben is absolutely the person who spearheaded it this time around,” Ms Bott said.
This is the third attempt at establishing a regional gallery that Mr Quilty has been a part of.
Mr Quilty said the success of the venture this time around was a matter of finding the right ambition and support from both council and the state government.
“We have a fantastic building and a council that’s committed. My children won’t have to board buses to Hazelhurst gallery and galleries in Sydney to be able to see the Archibald or Art Express every year,” Mr Quilty said.
Ms Bott said the Southern Highlands’ thriving artistic and cultural community was still a largely untapped resource due to lack of sufficient physical infrastructure.
Once built, the new regional gallery is expected to boost both the cultural life and economic growth of the region.
“There is so much activity down here, but not the physical infrastructure. There are people with significant private collections that have never been seen publicly before,” Ms Bott said.
“There is loads of potential, that’s what is so exciting,” she said.
Councillor Larry Whipper said the extensive consultation process between the National Trust, Wingecarribee Shire Council had laid the foundation for a strong business case for the gallery.
“We’ve made a number of attempts at this in vain, but I think we’ve laid what we believe to be a solid foundation to make the gallery a reality this time around,” Cr Whipper said.
“I think Retford Park is the perfect site to host the gallery; it acknowledges the legacy of James Fairfax in both his philanthropic and artistic endeavours,” he said.