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AGNSW expansion will shrink public space

An artists impression of the new AGNSW site. Credit: Supplied


The Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) has secured $244 million to help fund an expansion that will allow the gallery to display more of its $1.3 billion collection.
The expansion which will double the size of the gallery was announced last week by the NSW Government ahead of this week’s state budget. But the expansion is set to eat up the Woolloomoo reservoir, a grassy public space the community has always enjoyed access to.
The AGNSW claims the site is currently under-utilised as it is dotted with manholes, making it unsuitable for organised sports.
Ownership of the site is complicated. The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust owns approximately 57 per cent of the project site, while Roads and Maritime Services has 37 per cent, with the Art Gallery of NSW holding the balance.
Whilst the announcement is a clear win for the AGNSW there is a still a lack of funding for arts organisations around the country.
Ché Baines, 21, is an artist and art activist who has been active in the ‘SCA Resistance’ campaign, to stop changes being made to Sydney College of the Arts which will be moved to the University of Sydney’s main Camperdown campus in 2019.
Mr Baines believes that rather than spending millions of dollars of money on AGNSW, some of the money could go towards other organisations in the arts sector.
“It’s always good to be putting money into arts, but art galleries have a sort of strange history in terms of access, technically speaking they’re a public space where anybody can go and see art but for a long time they’ve been coded as somewhere where the elite goes to see art and then coding art as something only for the elite.”
“I have a problem with that when there are other types of things, that could use some of that money; like funding fringe theatre, smaller art galleries as well as art schools,” said Mr Baines.
“I think is a serious concern and something that I’ve been working on recently to make sure we can support student campaigns and academic campaigns against those attacks,” he said.
The Gallery’s expansion – the Sydney Modern Project – details plans for expansion of art spaces, live performance, film as well as spaces to learn, study and participate in cultural expansions.
NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong said: “Any investment in the arts is welcome and I think… having worked in theatre and the arts, we know the arts are underfunded in our community.”

“Anyone who has seen the coverage on how many artworks sit, not in view in the art gallery [AGNSW] would know that anything we can do, to try and improve the amount of access people have to the amazing artwork that this state has is to be encouraged.”

Ms Leong said: “One of the key things we have to remember is this investment in the art gallery is being done at the same time as we’re seeing our national art schools under threat… it’s important for us to recognise that we need to be supporting the full spectrum of artists and that means from education, through to professional artists and their ability to do their work as well as access to galleries and exhibition spaces.”
Archibald Prize-winning Sydney artist and AGNSW board member Ben Quilty told ABC Radio last Wednesday that the galleries large indigenous art collection is currently being displayed in a transformed basement.
“We just need the space. We need to put the indigenous collection at the heart of the way we look at art and contemporary art in this city, the state and the country” he said.
AGNSW hopes the expansion “will improve significantly the State’s ability to attract more major international art exhibitions to NSW” with the Sydney Modern Project expected to deliver $1 billion in economic benefit to the NSW economy of the next 25 years as well as the creation of up to 242 full-time jobs in NSW.
An AGNSW spokesperson said: “The Gallery expansion will enhance the underutilised site to the north of the existing Gallery, comprising two grassed concrete platforms – one over the Cahill Expressway and the other over two disused former World War II oil tanks.”
The two oil tanks (with 280,000 litre capacity) sit under the surface of the Woolloomooloo reservoir in a cavern with seven-metre high ceilings, spanning 4,500 square metres.
As part of the project this space will be converted into a ‘Oil Tank Gallery’ occupying approximately 1400 square metres of floor space.
Pritzker Prize-winning architects, SANAA have worked with AGNSW for the past two years, working on the design concept, which will continue to be refined until the submission of a State Significant Development Application in the coming months.
Major construction of the expansion project is expected to commence in 2019, due for completion in 2021, in time for the 150th anniversary of the Gallery’s founding in 1871.

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