The National Art School, Australia's oldest of its kind, has just secured a long-term lease over the historic Darlinghurst Gaol, guaranteeing its future and ending years of uncertainty around its tenure.
The signing of the 45-year lease took place on site on Monday in the presence of the school's chair, four board members and Minister for Arts Don Harwin. The institution is now recognised as an organisation of state significance, alongside Carriageworks and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
National Art School chair Carolyn Fletcher, Arts Minister Don Harwin and Craig Limkin at the signing on Monday.Credit:Louie Douvis
"It gives us certainty – that's the biggest thing. We can now invest in the site and the art-making facilities and drive forward to become the best art school in the Asia-Pacific region. It gives us the certainty to plan ahead and build partnerships with other arts organisations in western Sydney and regional communities, and to extend conservations around what it means to be an artist in the 21st century."
In July 2018, Mr Harwin acquired a 99-year lease over the old jail designed by Francis Greenway, and NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption rules limit the life of a lease to 45 years.
With a secure lease over the precinct, Mr Harwin said the school would likely attract much stronger philanthropic support.
"The future of the National Art School is secure," he said. "That cloud that has hung over them for so long is gone. The school will grow and it will become the greatest art school in Australia and, increasingly, the region. I hesitate to say 'mission accomplished' … but really this is what the National Art School has wanted and we have delivered."
A celebration is being organised next week to mark the signing, at which a sizeable donation will be announced to help restore the site's facilities and equipment. The board's corporate strategic plan for the next six years will also be announced.
The National Art School boasts a unique model of small atelier-based classes and intensive tutoring in order to teach not just art theory, but art practice. Its alumni includes Margaret Olley, James Gleeson, Tim Storrier, Martin Sharp, Ken Done, Max Dupain and John Olsen, and the school has beaten off multiple threats to its campus, in the 1960s, 1973 and a decade later when it was caught in a drive to restructure TAFE courses.
Olley in particular would likely be pleased with the school's new lease. Alderton was previously the director of the Lismore Regional Gallery and was heavily involved in the planning for the nearby Margaret Olley Art Centre, during which he would visit the late artist often in Sydney.
"She was always talking about the National Art School and had a real fondness for it in her heart. She came down from Brisbane and enrolled in it when it was East Sydney Technical College and it opened her world up, for the first time really," he said.
"She loved the place, and the studio teaching model, and she'd be very happy today."
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