The Foundation arose as a response by a group of Newcastle businessmen, to the example of William Bowmore’s 1977 gift of the Brett Whitley’s Summer at Carcoar. Newcastle City Council was supportive and provided initial advice but the Foundation was conceived as an independent body with its own board. Its prime objectives were “to marshall interest, abilities and financial support for the benefit of the Newcastle Region Art Gallery and its activities, and, more specifically, “to assist the Gallery to acquire significant works for the permanent collection and to assist the Gallery to continue its programs of special and visiting exhibitions”.
At its first Annual General Meeting in June 1978 it held $30,625 in trust and had earned interest of $468. By 1980 the Foundation comprised 15 Trustees and 16 Members, and included local and national companies, organisations and individuals. Initially, major corporations and others anticipated a one-off donation and were enabled to nominate a Board member. This model evolved into the current system of Board representation reflecting a more diverse membership. The Foundation gained tax deductible status in 1984.
Soon, the Foundation’s contribution to acquisitions exceeded the allocation from Newcastle City Council. Its first contribution to the Gallery was a painting by Eric Wilson, unveiled in April 1979. The years 1980-89 saw $198,000 provided towards the purchase of approximately 30 works of art, including works by George Lawrence, J H Carse, Ian Fairweather, Donald Friend, Arthur Boyd, Lloyd Rees, Ken Whisson, Mandy Martin, Bea Maddock, Nancy Borlase and Guy Boyd. The Les Blakeborough collection of Japanese ceramics comprising 57 items, acquired in 1985, complemented the ceramics already in the Gallery’s collection. A dinner marked the Foundation’s $40,000 gift of Arthur Streeton’s Australian December, the First Crop in 1993.
The capital base of the Foundation grew steadily in a high-interest environment, until in 1997 the Foundation took full control of the funds which had hitherto been managed by Newcastle City Council. This allowed a more flexible investment policy that has provided a consistent return above benchmark on investments while supporting capital growth.
In the twenty-first century, the Foundation’s horizon has widened with a flow of new members and events. In 2006, the Foundation’s role was highlighted by the Newcastle Herald headline, “Smart purchasing decisions has (sic) turned a $300,000 donation into a $6 million art bank for Newcastle”.
Since then, the Foundation has managed significant acquisitions including works by Tracey Moffat, Patricia Piccinini, Rosalie Gascoigne, Albert Namatjira, Gwynn Hansen-Piggot, Richard Browne, Gretchen Albrecht and Tony Tuckson and a studio grand piano by Stuart and Sons.
Altogether, more than 150 works have entered the collection by way of the Foundation over 40 years