The National Gallery of Australia may have to close two days a week, amid revelations it's facing a further funding crisis.
It may also have to reintroduce entry fees and force redundancies on an already drastically reduced staff, due to a potential $265 million shortfall over the next 10 years.
In a letter sent to Arts Minister Tony Burke, and obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age under freedom of information laws, gallery chairman Ryan Stokes outlined the extent of the crisis once the most recent short-term funding of $24.77 million ends in the middle of next year.
The gallery, along with most national cultural institutions, has been impacted by many years of efficiency dividends that have led to cuts in programming, exhibitions and staffing numbers.
The gallery's heritage-listed 40-year-old building, which has been subject to various urgent management reports due to its ageing facilities, will require waterproofing and other extensive works to bring it up to standard.
It's an ongoing issue for the building that houses the country's most valuable art collection, recently valued at $6.9 billion.
An audit report in 2018 revealed leaking roofs in display spaces and inadequate climatic and storage conditions, as well as a possible solvency risk.
In the years since, relatively small funding injections have saved the gallery from some of the worst-case scenarios, but after years of cutbacks, the institution has now reached a crisis point.
In his letter, Mr Stokes called for urgent consideration and provision of "sufficient funding to address the instability and uncertainty".
He said over the past 10 years some $6.2 million in funding to stage exhibitions and programs had been stripped.
In 2020, during the first wave of COVID lockdowns in Australia, director Nick Mitzevich announced that 30 staff positions would be cut, through a voluntary redundancy program.
This came after a summer of interrupted exhibitions due to the Black Summer bushfires.
In his letter, Mr Stokes said there were now further staff cuts and restrictions to the building being considered as cost-cutting measures.
"The minister clearly understands our financial position and we are working with him on this," a gallery spokeswoman said.
Mr Burke said he was aware that cultural institutions were suffering after "a decade of neglect".
"The culture war waged by the previous government has pushed a number of our most important institutions to the brink," he said.
"The Albanese government is acutely aware of the pressures they're facing. We're working through the issues in order to make decisions about future funding."
Independent Senator David Pocock said funding for national cultural institutions in Canberra had been raised with him multiple times during the federal election campaign.
"I wrote to Senator [Katy] Gallagher ahead of the October budget noting the lack of capital funding to carry out essential maintenance on their buildings and the adverse impacts of not one but two savings measures they are subject to - the APS-wide efficiency dividend and a further savings measure, which was introduced in the 2015/16 MYEFO and sits at 1 per cent since July this year," he said.
"I asked the government to review these measures as a matter of urgency.
"Our National Gallery in particular is in a financially perilous state and without urgent action, there's a real risk serious measures will need to be implemented to cut costs."
He said the gallery had an important role in helping to tell the story of Australia and "our evolving culture".
"It belongs to all of us, and it does little good if it can't be preserved, curated, exhibited or made available to the Australians who pay for it," he said.
"If we want this collection to grow, and if we want it to be available to future generations, then we need to look at the sustainability of the Gallery's funding.
"Looking at the budget, the gallery's funding is projected to shrink in the next financial year and across the forward estimates.
"No other multi-billion dollar investment, whether public or private, would be left to grapple with these types of decisions."
He said he hoped the financial position of the various national cultural institutions in Canberra would be prioritised in the May budget.
"I appreciate the pressures on the federal budget but this has now become a question of priorities. Continuing huge subsidies for multi-national fossil fuel companies while our national cultural institutions suffer is not striking the right balance," he said.
Mr Mitzevich was not available for comment.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: