A $250,000 anonymous donation has saved Victoria's Castlemaine Art Museum from closure

Castlemaine Art Museum. Source: supplied

A last-minute $250,000 donation from an anonymous Victorian couple has saved the 104-year-old Castlemaine Art Museum from closure next week.

The 1931 art deco building in Victoria’s goldfields region, which houses works by Australian artists such as Arthur Streeton, and is currently displaying Patricia Piccinini’s “Graham”, the sculpture commissioned by the Transport Accident Commission, announced last month that it would close on August 11 until March 2019, due to “a range of financial and operational challenges”, sent shockwaves through the arts community.

Earlier this year, the museum lost a long-term financial supporter and a 2015 report noted that the gallery’s financial performance had been “precarious for many years”.

Artist Ben Quilty called the pending closure “another kick in the guts” to the sector. Last year CAM hosted his exhibition of portraits of war veterans from Afghanistan.

Today auction house Sotheby’s Australia announced it helped facilitate an anonymous donation to keep the museum open.

The $250,000 over two years will help pay operating costs and also make entry to the museum free.

Sotheby’s chairman Geoffrey Smith said he hoped the donation would inspire others to support the institution.

“We look forward to Castlemaine Art Museum regaining its rightful position as a pre-eminent local, state and national cultural destination and will provide the board with our full support,” he said.

Sotheby’s issued a statement on behalf of the benefactor that said they are “delighted” to offer the support.

“We are a couple from Central Victoria with family links in the district and have been frequent visitors to both the town and the Museum,” the statement says.

“Our initial donation of $250,000 over two years will be supplemented by further donations to support exhibitions during this time. Our commitment of financial support beyond 2019 will depend on the level of support and engagement from the community as a whole and Mount Alexander Shire Council in particular.

“We believe this is a great opportunity to grow the Museum, raise its national profile and make it a ‘must visit’ destination.”

Museum chair Jan Savage says the reprieve for the gallery was unexpected.

“It’s really exciting that we can keep the doors open and we’re still here,”

The gallery will operate under reduced hours, in what she calls “CAM light – we’ll be paring back a few things”, but the anonymous donation has already attracted additional support.

Savage said that when she broke the good news to around 475 locals gathered in the Castlemaine town hall last night, there was silence.

“It took a moment to sink in. People came with such angst and worry about what was going to happen, so when we told them, the room was hushed. Then everyone was pleased and happy.”

Melissa Macfarlane, daughter of the late Amcor CEO Don MacFarlane, was in touch yesterday, offering the museum an additional $50,000, with the promise of more funds to come.

Savage says the money will be used on help engage CAM’s audience and the public, as well as on branding.

“So that’s a really good for the next step for us,” she said.

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