Foxes’ $100 million NGV gift a generous vote of confidence in Melbourne

When you conjure up an image of Melbourne, a number of buildings come to mind: Flinders Street Station, Federation Square, the Royal Exhibition Building and the National Gallery of Victoria. All are distinctive and together they give rise to the city’s unique character.

Still on the drawing board is a new gallery to open its doors in 2028. It is well expected to join this iconic group of buildings. At 60 metres high and with 30,000 square metres of floor space, the National Gallery of Victoria Contemporary, the centrepiece of a $1.7 billion revamp of the Southbank arts and culture precinct, will be the country’s biggest art gallery.

The donation has earned the Fox family naming rights for the new NGV Contemporary.Credit:Render by Darcstudio

Reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s acclaimed Guggenheim Museum in New York, the early designs of the building show light pouring in from a glass-encased roof into a central atrium with a spiral path that links the galleries. NGV director Tony Ellwood says the elegant, refined design by Australian architect Angelo Candalepas gave him goosebumps. We understand how he felt.

This week, the enormous project received a major financial fillip: Lindsay and Paula Fox, at the head of one of the country’s wealthiest families, kicked in $100 million, the single largest amount ever granted by a living donor to a cultural institution in Australia.

As senior culture writer Karl Quinn explained, Ellwood spent a year wooing the Fox family to contribute the enormous amount. Or, to be more precise, it was Paula, a long-time member of the NGV Foundation Board and Order Of Australia recipient in 2015 for her philanthropic work, who was the main focus of Ellwood’s appeal. As she remarked this week, “I said to Lindsay, ‘How do you feel about giving $100 million to the gallery?’ And he didn’t hesitate. He said, ‘That’s fine.’ ” All Victorians should be grateful for the Fox family’s generosity.

Inside the NGV Contemporary.Credit:Angelo Candalepas and Assocs / Secchi Smith

Melbourne is the culture capital of Australia, but that should never be taken for granted. Continuous investment and support is required if a city is to retain the vibrancy of its artistic community, whether it be by building and maintaining venues or supporting the many thousands of people who make up the sector. Government cannot be the only source of funding.

Australia’s wealthiest people have, in recent years, become more generous. According to The Australian Financial Review, which each year compiles a list of donations by the nation’s 50 biggest givers, in the 2019-20 financial year philanthropists handed out nearly $1 billion, an almost 30 per cent increase from the previous year. Topping the list was the Paul Ramsay Foundation, which gave nearly $170 million towards breaking the cycle of disadvantage.

In return for its $100 million contribution, the Fox family has been given naming rights to the new home of contemporary arts. Along with 13,000 square metres of display space, The Fox: NGV Contemporary will feature education spaces, science laboratories for art conservation, and a rooftop terrace with CBD views. It will be nestled in public gardens larger than the playing surface of the MCG, with retail and hospitality offerings, performance spaces and public art.

Some might find this naming convention confronting, but with Hamer Hall, the Fairfax and Sumner theatres, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl and the Ian Potter Centre already named after sponsors or prominent people, we believe it’s due recognition for a very generous gift.

Melbourne’s extended lockdowns during the pandemic knocked the stuffing out of its live venues, cultural institutions and many thousands of people who give rise to the incredible array of artistic offerings in this city. The donation by the Fox family is a tremendous vote of confidence in Melbourne’s future as a place where the arts are not merely given lip service.

Gay Alcorn sends an exclusive newsletter to subscribers each week. Sign up to receive her Note from the Editor.

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