Community 'shocked and saddened after funding shortage causes Castlemaine art museum to close

Castlemaine’s century-old art museum will shut its doors next month, with falling revenue and rising costs leaving the central Victorian institution struggling to make ends meet.

The Castlemaine Art Museum board announced on Friday it would close its Lyttleton Street site from August 11 while directors searched for a more sustainable funding model. 

The move leaves six employees jobless and a community board chairwoman Jan Savage described as “shocked and saddened”.  

Directors have given themselves two years to restructure the organisation, aiming to re-open the site for the Castlemaine Festival in 2019.

Ms Savage explained the closure followed an unexpected drop in ticketing, gift shop and fundraising revenue during the last financial year.

The cost of maintaining the heritage-listed, art deco museum was also a factor contributing to its closure.  

Unlike the Bendigo Art Gallery, the Castlemaine institution is a non-government organisation and is not operated by the local council.

It is, however, financially supported by the Mount Alexander Shire Council and state government’s arts department, Creative Victoria. 

The gallery also depends on philanthropic donations to cover its costs.  

“Getting enough funding from private donors, from members, from anyone who is interested, that's where the vulnerability is,” Ms Savage said.

The chairwoman said the gallery would now explore partnerships with local government and arts organisations so it could open to the public in the future.

“Nothing is a done deed but everything is on the table,” she said. 

Ms Savage expected the building would be open for some events during the closure “so that members and the public don’t forget it and the collection”.

The gallery was not the only one of its type facing hardship, with Ms Savage citing Langwarrin’s McClelland Gallery as another privately operated institution struggling to stay in the black.  

Since it first opened in 1913, the Castlemaine Art Museum has played host to works from some of Australia’s most renowned – and most controversial – art figures, pieces of history that will soon be behind closed doors. 

Just last year the gallery housed work from photographer Bill Henson and painter Ben Quilty. Other contemporary names to exhibit inside the art deco space include central Victorian artists Rona Green, Deborah Klein and Rob Meyer.

The Castlemaine stalwart is also home to a library of Australian art monographs, auction catalogues and art dealer documents. 

A statement from the museum on Friday said it would remain a functional facility for the secure storage of artworks and other historical items of significance.

Ms Savage said a project officer would be chosen to oversee the collection during the gallery’s closure.

Historic house and garden Buda, which is also held by the CAM trustees but managed by an incorporated association with its own Committee, remains open to the public.