Aucklanders are being asked to join a high-profile campaign to stave off the financial crisis facing the city's 125 year old art gallery.

Save Our Gallery, which counts art lovers and gallery patrons Dame Jenny Gibbs and Chartwell Trust's Sue Gardiner among its founders, has launched pART to raise awareness about the gallery's financial situation. It has attracted some 2000 supporters so far, including comedienne Michelle A'Court and fashion designer Karen Walker.

They're posting selfies on social media, holding up signs using the slogan pART for messages like pART of our Identity, pART of Auckland and pART of Me. Billboards have also gone up this week around the city urging Aucklanders to fight for their art gallery.

Save Our Gallery wants Auckland Council to restore the gallery's funding to at least the $9.2m it received during the 2014/15 financial year. That has been steadily cut during the last three years and the gallery now receives, through the council's regional facilities arm, $6.9m.

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Despite this, the gallery has won wide acclaim, including a major international architecture award, since it re-opened in 2012 after a $121 million upgrade which increased exhibition space by 50 per cent. Visitor numbers reached 521,000 last year,116 per cent of its annual target, while satisfaction runs at 90 per cent. Around 46,500 people participate in education and community outreach programmes including refugees, prisoners, immigrants and teen dads.

New Zealand fashion designer Karen Walker. Photo / Nick Reed
New Zealand fashion designer Karen Walker. Photo / Nick Reed

Faced with funding shortages, the gallery considered shutting for up to two days a week but has made cost savings to remain open every day except Christmas.

However, from Monday it will start charging international visitors. Adults will be charged $20, students with identification $17, while children aged 12 will remain free.

Gardiner says this should supplement public funding not replace it. Her father, Robert, founded the Chartwell Trust in Hamilton in the early 1970s to promote understanding of the visual arts. The 1600-strong Chartwell Collection, which is a public collection, was moved to Auckland Art Gallery in 1997.

"A well-resourced gallery with equally well-resourced exhibitions then attracts visitors and private philanthropy," she says. "The latter should not be used to make up for a lack of public funding. It must be a partnership with public funding providing a strong platform on which further funding can be built.

"Auckland Art Gallery is a flagship organisation where artworks by inspirational artists, who are leaders in their field, are collected and exhibited. It's like having a world-class cricket team; you watch them as elite sportspeople and it inspires people from all walks of life to go out and play a game of backyard cricket, to start thinking about what the possibilities may be.

Save Our Gallery has released a series of images for Auckland Art Gallery lovers to take a selfie with and share on social media with #saveourgallery.
Save Our Gallery has released a series of images for Auckland Art Gallery lovers to take a selfie with and share on social media with #saveourgallery.

"Visiting the much loved gallery, which is like a gymnasium for the mind, helps to unlock our potential as curious and active members of an ambitious city. It is so important that the public funding is restored."

A meeting is planned for Tuesday at Allpress Studio for volunteers who want to join the campaign while Friday, February 16 will be an action day with a petition signing outside Auckland Art Gallery from midday onwards.

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Chris Brooks, who heads Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA), told the New Zealand Herald in November that after property costs, the gallery's budget should be about $9m but cuts from council to RFA had been passed on to the gallery.

Brooks said RFA will make a bid for more money for the gallery as part of the council's new 10-year budget next year. The council begins meetings in February to consider the plan; Save Our Gallery wants to ensure Mayor Phil Goff and his council know just our much Aucklanders value Auckland Art Gallery.

Goff opened The Art of Banksy exhibition, a private enterprise brought to Auckland by the British street artist's former manager, and spoke strongly about his appreciation for the arts.