The symbolic turning of the first sod to mark the start of construction of the $4 million Margaret Olley Art Centre at the Tweed River Art Gallery was held yesterday.
The centre, expected to be ready by February next year, fulfils the late artist’s wish to house her collection of works in the gallery, which is already proving to be one of the biggest attractions in the Tweed.
A current exhibition of her works, which ends this Sunday, has already attracted almost 20,000 visitors.
Margaret Olley’s Paddington studio and elements of her home will be re-created in the purpose built extension to the art gallery, which will also include extra exhibition space, storage rooms and library space.
The project is a true co-operative effort with the community, through Tweed Shire Council, the gallery through its friends and foundation, the Margaret Olley Art Trust, and all tiers of government helping to fund it.
Representatives from all groups involved in the project attended the sod turning.
The project funding so far includes a $1 million contribution from the Margaret Olley Art Trust matched by a $1 million federal government grant, as well as $200,000 from the NSW government, $620,000 from the Tweed River Art Gallery Foundation, $80,000 from the Friends of the Tweed River Art Gallery and $1.1 million in council contributions.
Tweed mayor Barry Longland said yesterday was a major step forward in the project, which showed the shire’s ‘commitment to present a lasting and loving tribute’ to the late artist, and thanked all those involved.
Cr Longland said he was confident the gallery with the Olley art centre would become not just the best regional gallery in NSW but throughout Australia.
‘The level of national interest in each stage of this process reflects Margaret Olley’s status as an icon of Australian art and shows how important the centre will be at a national level,’ he said.
Gallery director Susi Muddiman said the sod turning was a major milestone in the project and she was looking forward to seeing work start.
Trustee of the Margaret OIley Trust, Phillip Bacon, said the late artist ‘loved the Tweed gallery’ and was very happy to have her works housed there.
The artist spent part of her early childhood in the Tweed.
Mr Bacon said trust funding would also enable a full time staff member to be employed for the centre itself.
Richmond MP Justine Elliot said the Olley art centre represented ‘what we can achieve when all work together’ and was ‘a real community victory’ with all levels of government and community involved.
Mrs Elliot said the local community was ‘incredibly proud’ of their gallery and she expected it to put the Tweed on the ‘international stage’.
Lismore MP Thomas George also congratulated everyone involved for ‘a real community win’.
Mr George said that when he travelled around the state and he mentioned his electorate took in Murwillumbah, many people and other MPs asked how the Olley extension to the gallery was going.
He said the gallery drew more than 79,000 visitors last year and he didn’t know ‘anything else in the northern rivers that attracts numbers like that year in year out’.
Successful contractor Alder Constructions will soon start work on the construction of: the Margaret Olley home studio, an artist in residence studio, additional exhibition space, education workshop, additional collection storage, a library space, refurbishment of the gallery entrance and retail area including a new airlock entry, alterations to the existing driveway entrance and bus parking bay, minor pavement repairs to front asphalt entrance, a cafe extension, an upgrade of the gallery’s existing mechanical ventilation system to meet industry standards, internal renovations to the retail outlet, offices and an airlock to maximise sustainable climatic controls at the gallery’s entrance.
For more information, visit http://www.tweed.nsw.gov.au/ArtGallery/MargaretOlleyArtCentre.aspx.