Image: Council Chambers, Wollongong, c.1963.
Photograph by Royston A. MacDonell, courtesy Wollongong City Library.
The origins of Wollongong Art Gallery date back to 1951 with the formation of the Illawarra Art Society. The Society was formed by a group of local people interested in promoting art and culture in the region. This interest was further fostered with the appointment of local artist and potter Ivan England into the Society in 1954.
The Illawarra Art Society began a program of lectures, exhibitions and competitions and in 1956 held the first acquisitive prize. The intention of this prize was to initiate and develop a Wollongong City Art Collection. Over the years these competitions attracted not only local and regional artists, but also artists from around the state.
By the early 1970’s the need for a gallery to house, conserve and display this growing collection began to gain attention. Council agreed that an interim gallery space could be formed on the mezzanine floor of the Council Chambers. However, it was soon apparent that a more permanent location was needed to accommodate the expanding collection.
In 1974 the Gallery Society was formed with the express purpose to “promote the establishment of a Gallery and raise money on its behalf.” A role the Gallery Society continues to this day in the form of the Friends of Wollongong City Gallery.
In 1976 Bob Sredersas, a local art collector donated his collection of paintings, drawings and antique china to the City. This gift gave the final impetus to the Gallery gaining its own site.
This site was the old Hughes, Whetton & Reilly building on the corner of Burelli & Keira Streets, Wollongong. Although this location was always seen as an interim site due to the inadequate design, display and storage facilities of the building, it opened its doors as Wollongong City Gallery in 1978 and remained so for 13 years, until the Gallery’s relocation to its present site, the old Council Administration Building, in 1991. This building was designed by Reginald J. Magoffin in an austere, stripped back classical style; it is a perfect example of early 1950s Australian civic architecture. With its dramatic curved façade, Wollongong City Gallery retains a unique floor plan said to evoke the shape of a stylised jewelled crown designed to commemorate the recent coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Today the Gallery is recognised as one of the most innovative Regional art museums in Australia. The Gallery presents a diverse program of high profile exhibitions as well as exhibitions by local and regional artists and community groups. The Gallery also presents an ongoing schedule of innovative and varied Education and Public Programs that enhance the program and provide access to the Gallery’s exhibition program and collection.