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The Art Gallery of New South Wales is an expansive art museum located in the heart of Sydney, Australia. It operates as the official gallery for the state of New South Wales and is primarily supported through government-held trusts. Some of the more popular collections include the museum’s expansive stock of aboriginal artwork, as well as its galleries devoted to Victorian English and other Western European works. The museum supports a robust educational agenda and regularly hosts a number of school groups, informational seminars, and free or low-cost lecture series.
One of the founding aims of the Art Gallery of New South Wales was to make art and art education available to all residents of Sydney, as well as attracting art lovers from other parts of Australia. The New South Wales government established what would be the precursor to the museum when it formed the New South Wales Academy of Art by executive charter in 1871. Some art classes were offered at the academy, though lectures and informational exhibits were the primary focus.
The state government purchased the initial exhibition pieces from Europe. For a time, the academy was focused exclusively on English and Western European masterpieces. As the collection grew, however, it slowly began to include a number of local artists’ work, as well as work donated by wealthy or well-traveled patrons. By 1895, the gallery was expansive enough to move to its own permanent location, and for the first time it was formally called the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The academy continued to persist independently for several years, but was completely subsumed by the gallery in the mid-1900s.
Owing in part to this academic connection, art education and cultural literacy remains one of the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ top agenda items. Gallery curators put on a wide variety of seminars each month, and regular lecture series both for and by artists are usually just as frequent. Museums and kids go particularly well at the gallery, as well, with a number of school groups enjoying exclusive curricula and tailored tours. Most of the permanent collections have been digitized and can be freely accessed from any Internet connection. Though the museum regularly attracts art lovers from across the globe, visiting Australia is no longer required to view the museum’s masterpieces.
The museum boasts one of the largest collections of permanent art of any Australian museum. It maintains the core of European art upon which it was founded, but also includes expansive collections of aboriginal, Australian colonial, and Asian art, particularly Asian religious icons. Modern and contemporary art is housed on a rotating basis in the temporary exhibition space. Each year the museum also sponsors a seasonal collection showcasing the best of studio artwork produced by Sydney-area graduating high school students.
Most of the museum’s acquisitions and operating expenses are government-funded, which is common amongst Australian museums, particularly those designated as official state galleries. A 1980 law, the “Art Gallery of New South Wales Act,” provides for a government trust and structured endowment to support the museum’s mission into perpetuity. This law is an update of an act of the same name that was originally drafted in the 1950s, at about the time when the New South Wales Academy of Art merged completely into the art gallery. Some funding also comes from private donations and charitable gifts, though the law often dictates how these outside contributions must be allocated.