Lismore Art Gallery Director Brett Adlington with two Margaret Olley paintings that are part of the permanent collection.
Lismore Art Gallery Director Brett Adlington with two Margaret Olley paintings that are part of the permanent collection. Cathy Adams

Lismore may lose Olley gallery

AS RECENTLY as a few weeks ago, Margaret Olley was still discussing the planned new gallery that would – one day – bear her name.

Former Lismore Regional Gallery director Steven Alderton, who was heavily involved in the initial planning of the new gallery in Lismore, met with Ms Olley to discuss the gallery after she heard the project had stalled because of financial concerns in council.

Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell said she asked Mr Alderton, who became friends with Ms Olley while he worked at Lismore, to tell the revered painter she hadn’t given up.

“I asked him to tell her I hadn’t given up on it and I hope that any newly elected council next September could turn their attention to it again,” Cr Dowell said.

Ironically, Ms Olley’s death on Tuesday may give more impetus to the gallery – and if it doesn’t do it here, Mr Alderton warns it could well happen somewhere else first.

“There are thousands of people in Sydney mourning her loss – thousands across the country,” Mr Alderton said. He is now with the Australian Museum in Sydney.

“She’s a major national icon and we tapped into that and got a relationship with Margaret and a good relationship with her, but she also had a good relationship with many other regional towns and places along the eastern seaboard.”

While Ms Olley was born and spent part of her childhood in Lismore and other parts of the Northern Rivers, she also spent time living in Tully in Far North Queensland and many other towns – any one of which could move first to build a Margaret Olley gallery.

Mr Alderton said Lismore’s failure to build its new gallery had been a source of disappointment to Ms Olley.

“She was happy to hear what the Mayor had said and she had spoken to her (Cr Dowell) many times ... but ultimately she would have liked to have seen some results,” he said.

In the time Lismore had been talking about building the Margaret Olley gallery, other areas such as Tweed, Port Macquarie and Muswellbrook had conceived, designed and built their own galleries.

Mr Alderton agreed Lismore’s initial plans for a gallery and museum, which would have cost around $20 million, was overly ambitious.

However, by the time the gallery plan collapsed that figure had been wound back to a more modest $6 million.

Cr Dowell agreed the publicity surrounding Ms Olley’s passing could make it easier for Lismore City Council to secure Federal funding to help pay for the project.

However, the current council was split on the need for the gallery and as long as that was the case, council would be unable to build it.



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