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lycett inner viewRon Radford, the director of the National Gallery of Australia, has come to Newcastle to see the Colonial Treasures of the Macquarie Era exhibition, including one very special artwork that is heading to London’s Royal Academy.

“I really wanted to see the works borrowed from the Mitchell (NSW State) Library and the wonderful early works that the Newcastle gallery owns itself.”

“They’re very precious and fragile works and it’s not often that they’re lent because libraries, etc, don’t want to put them at risk, but to see that wonderful Macquarie Collector’s Chest in Newcastle with the wonderful paintings and birds and so on, in the location where the birds and shells were collected, where Joseph Lycett painted it, it’s extraordinary. It’s great to see it in context with the other works. That work is not often shown in Sydney let alone being shown here in Newcastle.”

“It was during that time of Commandant Wallis that there were more artworks being produced here in Newcastle than in Sydney.”

As Director of the National Gallery of Australia, Ron Radford often travels to regional galleries to see and open their exhibitions.

“We have a big regional program where we send big exhibitions around the country. I’m to open the big federation exhibition in Darwin next week. So I do like getting around.”

“I was a regional gallery director. I was director of the Ballarat gallery for seven years so I’ve got a great affection for the job that our regional directors do.”

“It’s a difficult job, often in times when they are often cut yet ironically attendances to regional galleries, indeed all galleries, are going up and up and up at a time when governments are making cutbacks.”

“It’s rather ironic that about 12 million Australians visit art galleries each year, including in the regions. So attendances are going up but it’s not always appreciated that this is something that Australians like. More Australians per capita visit art galleries than any other country.”

Ron Radford was here in Newcastle for the opening of Newcastle Art Gallery when it was opened by The Queen in 1977.

“The collection has quadrupled since then and yet the building has remained the same. It must be the last of the major regional galleries in Australia to get an extension so I’m very much looking forward to that happening.”

“It is one of the great regional collections, it’s the most important in NSW and one of the top two or three regionall galleries in Australia, so I’m really looking forward to the new wing so that more of that wonderful collection can be shown and also so they can take more of our touring exhibitions. At the moment they can’t really do that without putting some of their collection away.”

Undoubtedly Ron Radford is aware of the recent debate of the funding commitment to the $21 million redevelopment of Newcastle Art Gallery but he remains convinced the redevelopment will proceed.

“I’m sure that it’s only just temporary. Buildings often go through these sorts of things, I’ve lived through many extensions. But I’m sure that as the people of Newcastle really want it and support it, I’m sure it will go ahead, it’s only a temporary setback.”

“And particularly I believe the collection here is even more important than Bendigo’s collection – which is a very good collection in Victoria and one of the earliest regional galleries in Australia – I think Newcastle’s collection in scope and quality surpasses Bendigo, the population here is so much bigger so I’m sure that it will go ahead and be supported by the community.”

“You should absolutely not sell artworks (to fund the redevelopment). What’s the use? That begins to feed on itself. You don’t sell your treasures, your main attractions and reasons people want to give to the gallery.”

“If you start selling the collections you’ll lose all your donors and people will think, the powers that be, will think that anything you want (to pay for) you just sell off the collection to pay for it. It’s cannabalising. The collection must always remain the main force.”

“Councils come and go, mayors come and go, gallery directors come and go but the collections go on forever.”

“The thing about the Bendigo gallery is that it has brought so much tourism. With it’s extensions and promoting from the city council itself in Bendigo, it’s become a great tourist attraction.”

“They’ve finally got the fact that it’s a great money-spinner for the hotels and everything else with people coming up for the day or a weekend and making a visit of their major temporary exhibitions which they’re doing and are very well promoted.”

“It’s a great asset for the hotels and cafes which are making a fortune out of the success of the Bendigo gallery and the promotion through their city council as a major tourist attraction from Melbourne.”

“I’m sure that when this (Newcastle Art Gallery) is redeveloped it will be a great attraction from the whole district but also a wonderful daytrip or weekend trip from Sydney to see the exhibitions.”