SYDNEY artist and curator Todd Fuller, who has visited the Grafton Regional Gallery many times to exhibit and work with local artists.
Ahead of today's public meeting to protest against possible funding cuts for the gallery, he has written a passionate open letter championing the role of the gallery in the region and as an ambassador for the Clarence Valley.
Over the past four years I have travelled from Sydney to Grafton nine times, visiting the Grafton Regional Gallery's various exhibitions and events. Most recently I spent a month working directly with the gallery through its artist in residence program. I am one of many cultural consumers who are regularly drawn to Grafton, specifically by the gallery.
I would like to congratulate the Clarence Valley Council for establishing a highly acclaimed Regional Centre for the Arts. Visitation figures in excess of 35,000 per year and a national reputation are not easily achieved. This is a sign of great leadership.
With this in mind, I have been deeply saddened this week to hear the council's plans to cut funds to the Gallery by 50%. I have been contacted by multiple Grafton based artists and colleagues across the State who are concerned at the potential impact of this action not only on the local community, but the regional arts sector of NSW the national drawing community and the reputation of Grafton as a cultural leader through the work of the gallery.
I find it hard to believe that the council would even consider this decision for a range of reasons.
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The council is the custodian of a rare, unique and vital collection; a collection which has been fostered out of generations of strategic thinking, wise investment, community initiatives and artists generosity.
Artists, art workers and curators across the country look to this collection as a benchmark of artistic excellence. There are few better collections of Australian Drawing outside of major metropolitan institutions.
Having recently spent time in Grafton, it amazed me how many members of your community didn't realise the reverence and respect which your gallery wields far beyond the Clarence Valley.
Grafton owns an indisputable treasure, an invaluable asset to your community and an essential collection for our national identity.
To not invest in your gallery as the keeper of this collection, is a decision against basic asset management, cultural tourism, local identity and national heritage.
Grafton Regional Gallery also boasts a highly active Gallery Foundation. It is so rare for a gallery to poses a foundation of such generosity and dynamism. It baffles me that the the council would do anything to jeopardise this vital philanthropic relationship. Any move which may strain the culture of giving around the Gallery, again seems strategically fraught.
I cannot help but recall, the 2014 Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award, where the Mayor of the time referred to the Grafton Regional Gallery as the "gem of the Clarence Valley", a sentiment which I have heard repeated by colleagues in Sydney and Melbourne when discussing your region.
From a public relations perspective, it seems like an act of organisation suicide to repeatedly slash the funds of an institution which is a flagship for the positive work of the Clarence Valley Council and for Grafton itself.
Most importantly, in my recent month spent in Grafton, I was privileged to witness one of the most passionate and dedicated teams of art workers of the NSW Regional Arts Sector.
Each team member more uniquely experienced than the next. The result of their labour was clear; a dynamic and broad reaching program focused on addressing real community needs.
The Galleries Public Programs and education initiatives only enhance what is a world class exhibition program, profiling local practitioners as meaningful and valuable alongside well-recognised, high profile Australian Artists.
From the young children being taught about the world around them through art, to the dementia patients reconnecting with memories and loved ones through the amazing 'Art in Mind' program, it was clear that this institution makes a real difference to the lives of the community.
By choosing to again remove resourcing from this organisation, Clarence Valley Council is choosing to slash your regions quality of life, limiting opportunities to learn, to be enriched and to grow. The affects of which will resonate far beyond Grafton.
The Grafton Regional Gallery, may seem like an easy way to save money in the Council's current situation, but it is not a wise one.