SYDNEY, Australia — After four years of uncertainty and controversy, a proposed expansion to Sydney’s premier art museum, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, has received a major boost with a local grant of 244 million Australian dollars (about $184 million).
The state treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, said the expansion would “turn our 19th-century gallery into a global museum of the future,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Tuesday. A government spokesman confirmed the grant.
The expansion, called Sydney Modern, will also help the city catch up to its chief rival, Melbourne, as a destination for great art, and help prevent it from missing out on both exhibitions and gifts of art for want of adequate space, in the view of supporters of the project.
The grant will cover only part of the cost of the expansion, which was designed by the Japanese architectural firm Sanaa. Another 100 million Australian dollars (about $75.4 million) must be raised from the private sector, of which the gallery says 70 million (about $53 million) has been pledged. A campaign to raise the rest will begin shortly.
Although Sydney’s state art museum is perennially popular — it attracts about a million people a year — it looks cramped and outdated in its current form. And in the last two decades it has lost ground — in terms both of visitor numbers and quality of experience — not only to Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria but also to art museums in smaller cities like Brisbane and Canberra, which have benefited from their own expansions.
The gallery’s director, Michael Brand, has had to fight opponents of the plan on multiple fronts. Conservative voices from within Sydney’s art world have questioned the need for any upgrade. A former prime minister — once known as a great champion of the arts — has publicly lambasted the project. Private donors have appeared reluctant to come on board. And the state government, which is ultimately responsible for funding the museum, had been unable to commit for years.
A windfall created by the privatization of the state’s electricity infrastructure changed the financial equation. But even as the government established a culture and arts fund of 600 million Australian dollars (about $452 million), it came under pressure to steer money away from so-called “elite” arts institutions and toward less-established organizations in the outer suburbs and regions.
To make the grant promised for the Sydney Modern project more palatable, the government announced a new Regional Cultural Fund of 100 million Australian dollars (about $75.4 million). Officials hope, meanwhile, that Sydney Modern will double attendance and bring an additional $1 billion into the economy over 25 years.