6 April 2023

Nation's priceless memories - and jobs - now secure, say cultural institution leaders

| Sally Hopman
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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese with National Gallery CEO Nick Mitzevich, NGA Board chair Ryan Stokes, Arts Minister Tony Burke and Finance Minister Katy Gallagher at this week’s funding announcement. Photo: NGA.

Leaders from the nation’s collecting institutions were celebrating this week with the announcement that they were to share more than $535 million in Federal Government funding, with spending plans ranging from opening the long-closed doors to historic Old Parliament House kitchens to “turbocharging” access to the national film and sound collection, to ensuring the future of the Trove digital library.

Although the bulk of the money will go to two of the hardest-hit cultural institutions, the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) and the National Library of Australia (NLA), seven other agencies will share in the remainder, including the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), National Museum of Australia (NMA), National Portrait Gallery (NPG), National Maritime Museum (NMM), Bundanon Trust, National Archives of Australia (NAA) and the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House (MOAD).

The CEOs also welcomed the security the funding injection would give staff from all the institutions who had job uncertainty.

Director of the NMA Dr Mathew Trinca welcomed the funding boost, saying it allowed the museum to plan for the future.

READ ALSO Half-a-billion rescue package for National Institutions

“We are incredibly grateful to the government and Arts Minister Tony Burke for the commitment to the National Museum’s ongoing role as the key institution for the holding and telling of the unique and complex Australian story for the benefit of all Australians,” Dr Trinca said.

“This is exciting news which is so encouraging for our staff. In making this significant financial contribution to the museum, the government has addressed longstanding funding issues and allowed the institution to plan for the future,” Dr Trinca said.

Announcing the funding boost on Wednesday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said: “I want all Australians to be able to visit, appreciate and learn from these institutions for generations to come.

“These are special places and we should be proud of them. They preserve, protect and celebrate Australia’s stories and history. My government is committed to preserving, protecting and celebrating them.”

Finance Minister Katy Gallagher said the funding would secure the future of Australia’s most cherished and historical institutions and restore them as a source of national pride, and “staff will finally have ongoing certainty about their jobs”.

A spokesperson for the NLA said the funding would allow the Library “to focus on providing world-leading services to the Australian community from our physical building and storage facilities in Canberra and via our digital library, Trove”.

READ ALSO Federal Government reviving the nation’s arts and cultural policies

It would also pay for critical ongoing building maintenance to replace antiquated heating, ventilation and cooling systems, ensure watertight store rooms, and replace leaking windows. It would also fund the extension of its Hume repository to safely house the physical collection – which grows by approximately 2 km a year.

Chair of the NGA Board Ryan Stokes said the funding announcement of $119.1 million secured the Gallery’s future for generations to come.

“This unprecedented level of funding addresses our immediate operational issues and establishes a clear process for incremental support of the Gallery’s long-term capital works requirements,” he said.

Young girl holds piece of film

Learning how important – and fragile – film is will help the NFSA ensure priceless pieces of our early film industry remain for future audiences. Photo: NFSA.

For the NFSA, which had been warning government that without an immediate injection of funds, rare collection material would be lost, it will use its $34 million and ongoing funding of almost $10 million “to turbocharge our ability to increase discoverability and access to the national collections for all Australians”.

“We are currently ramping up the digitisation of the collection for long-term preservation, especially those items on obsolete and deteriorating formats,” Director Patrick McIntyre said.

Director of MOAD Stephanie Bull said its allocation of $37.8 million was timely in the lead-up to the institution’s centenary in 2027. It would help fund crucial infrastructure works to help protect the iconic building.

“These works could result in further parts of the building being opened up for public access like the heritage kitchens,” she said.

Chair of the NPG Penny Fowler said staff were “enormously grateful and incredibly energised” by the additional funding of $27 million over four years.

“As the youngest and smallest of the cultural institutions, this kind of funding is transformational,” she said.

Director-General of the NAA Simon Froude said with more than 45 million items in the collection, the additional $36.5 million meant it could continue to digitise records and make the growing collection more accessible.

“Over 50 per cent of our collection is yet to be made available to the public – some of which is highly fragile and at risk of being lost. The funding will assist in addressing this issue and will go some way in supporting the complex operational needs of the organisation.”

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