Expansion project reimagines Gallery for a brand new audience

Newcastle Art Gallery has finally embarked on their long-awaited expansion, and the best is yet to come.

After two years of forced closures and digital programming for galleries and museums, 2022 is bound to be a year of recovery as the sector gets back on its feet.

However, Newcastle Art Gallery is going beyond the recovery phase and heading straight into its biggest expansion project for the next two years.

The plan to reimagine Newcastle Art Gallery has been through more than 16 turbulent years, struggling with approvals and funding. Now, helmed by Director since 2018, Lauretta Morton OAM, the city of Newcastle has committed to bringing the $35.6 million Newcastle Art Gallery expansion to fruition.

‘We’re finally growing up and becoming a modern Gallery,’ Morton told ArtsHub. ‘It’s going to be completely different to what we currently have with the existing building. We’re also changing to a seven-day operation and will open late every Friday night so people can pop into the Gallery to start their weekend.’

The project entails major building works that expand Newcastle Art Gallery’s current building (Australia’s first purpose-built regional Gallery when it opened in 1977) with an additional 1,600 square metres of exhibition space, complete with a café, terrace, retail shop and dedicated education space.

Morton continued: ‘The most exciting part of this project is that we will be able to get our iconic works out on permanent display for the community and for visitors to come and see.

‘Visitors will be able to view their favourites including Brett Whiteley’s Summer at Carcoar (1977) painting, among many other stars of the collection by artists such as Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Margaret Olley, Grace Cossington Smith, Novocastrian artists’ Virginia Cuppaidge, Sir William Dobell and of course John Olsen, who was born just around the corner from our Gallery.’

It’s a collection that has grown five-fold, and current facilities only allow Newcastle Art Gallery to display 1% of its holdings.

Morton emphasised that the expansion doesn’t just entail a new building, it will change the entire outlook and potential of Newcastle Art Gallery.

‘Something that I’ve been saying for at least 18 months to my team and our organisation is that it’s not just doing what we do now but two and a half times bigger – it’s completely different. It’s so exciting to be able to completely redesign the way that we bring our art Gallery service to our visitors and our community,’ she said.

While currently closed for over 7,000 works of art to be audited and prepared for offsite storage and relocation, the Gallery has delivered a variety of programming both online and offsite, including educational outreach programs in schools and collaborating with local festivals.

Morton said: ‘It’s very important to take our community on the journey with us … There are lots of different ways, physically as well as digitally that we can engage with our audience and bring them with us along the journey for when we reopen in 2024.’

She continued: ‘Delivering the expansion and construction on time [is one major goal], but also I think there are many ways to measure the success of this project.

‘I can’t wait to see people come in, not necessarily to see a particular exhibition or attend a program, but just to hang out at the Gallery … I want people to walk in here and see art in unexpected places, not just on the walls but also to interact with it, immerse themselves in it. To experience multi-arts performances in the Gallery; different offerings that will bring a diverse audience demographic. Art is for everyone and all members of our community who might want to come along and may have never visited a Gallery before.’

Morton concluded: ‘When you’re attracting completely different and new audiences into the Gallery, that’s a huge measure of success.’

Follow the progress of Newcastle Art Gallery’s expansion project on their website.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne.