GREG RAY: Our ‘state’ of the arts

WHAT did the NSW arts minister and Upper Hunter MP say when asked this week for $400million to extend an art gallery in Sydney?

He said: ‘‘The next stage is to conduct the appropriate feasibility studies and then possibly progress to initial design.’’

What did the same minister and Upper Hunter MP say when asked for $7million to match a federal grant to help extend Newcastle Art Gallery?

He said: ‘‘The gallery may be eligible to apply for assistance through the regional capital grant category.

‘‘Please note that funding is limited to $100,000 per project. However, funding of up to $250,000 may be considered in special circumstances.’’

Note the difference?

The minister, George Souris, didn’t promise to cough up $400million for the Art Gallery of NSW, but he wouldn’t rule it out either. And bear in mind, the Sydney extension will also involve an extra $8million a year in recurrent funding.

But when asked about Newcastle’s gallery, the word ‘‘no’’ couldn’t have been clearer if the minister had put it in neon over Hunter Street.

Because, as everybody knows, the only place in NSW that has art or culture is Sydney.

That’s why it makes sense for a government that administers a budget for the benefit of the entire state to spend almost all of its arts allocation in just one city.

The Hunter Region might have almost 10per cent of the state’s population, but that’s bad luck.

Newcastle might have one of the most wonderful art collections in Australia and barely enough floorspace to show a tiny fraction of it. But that’s bad luck too, because as far as the government is concerned, if it isn’t in Sydney, it doesn’t exist.

It’s worth repeating that the O’Farrell government has allocated about $370million for the arts over the coming year.

Almost all of it is for Sydney.

The Sydney Opera House, for example, gets $135.3million. The State Library gets $85.5million, the Australian Museum gets $26.5million, the Art Gallery of NSW gets $29.3million and the Powerhouse Museum gets $33million.

Outside of Sydney, if you aren’t a marginal seat in the lead-up to a tight election, you can just shut up and go away.

And it’s not just the Hunter that cops this bare-faced injustice from this alleged government of NSW.

When Albury put out its hand asking for a lousy $3.5million to match a federal grant to extend its art gallery, the Coalition government told it to nick off too.

No money for hicks in the sticks whose votes don’t matter.

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