Director of AGNSW in contract hiatus

Gina Fairley

The Art Gallery of NSW Board has delayed renewal of Director Michael Brand’s five-year contract for its full term.
Director of AGNSW in contract hiatus

It has been speculated for a while that the Board of Trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW would face a difficult decision when the contract of its Director, Michael Brand, came up for renewal in June this year.

Brand has been at the centre of a controversial storm surrounding the Gallery’s $450 million Sydney Modern expansion project, coupled with rolling staff changes, and a disgruntle Gallery Society. 

The Gallery confirmed to ArtsHub that the Board has not renewed Brand’s five-year contact for another term, but has extended it for a 12-month period only. The final decision on Brand's contract will be faced then.

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While sounding alarming, especially in the climate of the organisation having transitioned across three Deputy Directors in as many years, President of the Board, David Gonski, assured that the gallery was ‘happy with the stewardship we have now’.

Brand’s contract has been extended to June 2018 by mutual agreement and for convenience of all concerned. Reading anything into it other than we are diligently focused on the next stage of the gallery’s history is wrong,’ said Gonski.

Brand was in Australia for that Board decision, and fully complicit with the decision.  ‘I had discussed the extension with him and both he and I agreed that was the most logical thing to do because of where the gallery is at the moment. To read anything more into this is not fair.’

Gonski was referring to the critical stage of funding raising that the gallery faces for the Sydney Modern project.

‘It makes absolutely no sense to have an extensive advertising campaign and a world wide search at a time when you are working through the biggest development the gallery has seen, and we don’t know if we have the public or private money as yet. In a year we will have a better picture,’ said Gonski.

One of the key factors that has affected the contract extension is new public service rules introduced in 2014, which requires long-term senior public service appointments to be first advertised widely. Gonski said that could have a destabilising affect on advancing plans for Sydney Modern.

Brand told ArtsHub: ‘I'm not going to pretend this process around my contract extension isn’t a bit frustrating. It is. For me and for my staff.  But many other senior NSW public servants are in the same position.’

Gonski was sure to add that Brand was a ‘strong arts administrator’ and that he was very ‘gracious’ in this contract negotiation.

Brand, who is currently in Japan meeting with Sydney Modern architects, assured: ‘The Gallery is going from strength to strength and I have an additional important job to do in delivering the Sydney Modern Project for our city and state. 

‘The past two days in Tokyo with SANAA have been very exciting and hugely successful as we have finalised most elements of the Sydney Modern design.  It’s a magnificent building.  It’s going to provide an extraordinary art experience for visitors, and I’m looking forward to revealing the design for everyone to see,’ said Brand.

About the author

Gina Fairley covers the Visual Arts nationally for ArtsHub. Based in Sydney you can follow her on Twitter @ginafairley and Instagram at fairleygina.

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