Art Gallery welcomes most visitors in a decade

10 Feb 2019

World-class exhibitions, increased youth engagement and the growing appeal of the lucrative KILGOUR PRIZE has helped catapult Newcastle Art Gallery’s visitation numbers to their highest levels in 10 years.

Close to 77,000 people walked through the doors of the Gallery in 2018, up 14,000 or 23 per cent on 2017 and five thousand visitors more than in 2008.

“We’re absolutely delighted with what we were able to achieve for our local community and visitors to the city,” Gallery Director Lauretta Morton said.

“High quality exhibitions take time to develop, and what our visitors experienced last year was the culmination of years of hard work from the dedicated Gallery team.”

Lauretta Morton credits the gallery's success to hard work and forward planning from her team

Twelve diverse exhibitions from a range of local and internationally recognised artists are behind the success.

Just two were toured from other venues, while the remaining 10 were developed inhouse by the Gallery and only exhibited here in Newcastle.

Highlights included the current OLSEN ORMANDY: a creative force exhibition (which opened in November 2018 and is on display until 17 February) and the KILGOUR PRIZE 2018 featuring winning artist Natasha Walsh.

“This artist followed her KILGOUR PRIZE 2018 win with the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship and the Mosman Art Prize – which of course have all significantly bolstered her career as a young artist,” Ms Morton said.

Regarded as one of Australia's major art prizes, the Kilgour’s annual figurative and portrait painting prize awards $50,000 to an outstanding contemporary work of art. Last year, 400 entries were made by artists aged 18 to 90 from every state and territory. Applications for this year’s KILGOUR PRIZE 2019 have just opened.

OLSEN ORMANDY: a creative force exhibition is on display until 17 February

Social media has also been key to the Gallery’s success.

Last year its Instagram account surpassed 10,000 followers - Facebook is not far behind - as growth in online engagement and other important initiatives – such as the Youth Reference Group – helped ensure relevance to the next generation of visitors.

“Building engagement with young people is really important to us,” Ms Morton said. Through our Youth Reference Group, the Gallery facilitates peer-led programs and events that this targeted audience want to see incorporated into the Gallery’s schedule.”

Ms Morton said FLORIBUNDA: from the collection opens this weekend, and SODEISHA: connected to Australia – opening Saturday 2 March.

“We were recently awarded the Dobell Exhibition Grant, funded by the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation and managed by Museums & Galleries of NSW,” Ms Morton said.

“This funding is often shared across several projects and I am thrilled that we successfully secured the entire $40,000 to support the important SODEISHA: connected to Australia landmark exhibition project.

SODEISHA: connected to Australia is on display from 2 March – 19 May 2019

“This exhibition is the first opportunity for Newcastle Art Gallery to develop an international, cultural partnership project based on the city’s collection. It’s testament to the strength of the city’s collection and the Gallery’s exhibition and program development.”

Next month’s state election could deliver $14 million towards the Gallery’s expansion after Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp pledged the money should Labor win.

Expansion has also been endorsed in an updated state government Cultural Infrastructure Plan 2025, which identifies the redevelopment of the Art Gallery precinct as a regional opportunity.

A new gallery would include more exhibition and storage space, a secure loading dock and a cafe.

To view details of the upcoming FLORIBUNDA: from the collection 9 February – 21 April and SODEISHA: connected to Australia 2 March – 19 May 2019, or any other exhibitions from the 2019 collection, visit