An anonymous couple from central Victoria has donated $250,000 to keep the Castlemaine Art Museum open, after the regional institution announced it would close indefinitely next week due to lack of funding.

The couple hopes it will encourage the community to continue their support of the museum, according to a statement from Sotheby’s, which helped facilitate the donation.

Around 400 members of the museum gathered in Castlemaine last night to hear board chair Jan Graham announce the last-minute reprieve.

The couple, who have family in the Castlemaine area and regularly visit the museum, have committed monetary support until 2019.

“Our initial donation of $250,000 over two years will be supplemented by further donations to support exhibitions during this time,” the donors said in a statement released through Sotheby’s.

“We urge the Shire Council, local business and the Castlemaine community to take this opportunity to make a commitment to the museum’s future by supporting the board in its endeavours.”

The couple says their continued support after 2019, relied on community support and also funding from the Mount Alexander Council.

“Everyone has the capacity to support the organisation, becoming a member, visiting, promoting, volunteering their time,” Sotheby’s Geoffrey Smith tells Broadsheet. “At the meeting last night I understand that there were several hundred people [who] signed up as members. That’s extraordinary – that’s wonderful support.”

The initial donation will cover operational costs that will allow the museum to stay open while the board reviews and creates a “template for a viable future and for the organisation”, Smith explained. The museum also received a donation of $50,000 from the Macfarlane family.

The 105-year-old museum owns significant Australian artworks from the 19th and 20th centuries, including pieces by Frederick McCubbin and Arthur Streeton, as well as gold rush artefacts from the area. More recently, it has hosted exhibtions by some of Australia’s most important contemporary artists, including Ben Quilty and Bill Henson.

This mandate – to bring fine art to a broader regional audience – was of particular importance to the donors.

“They recognised that smaller museums do not have the access to significant funds or the same resources as larger organisations and therefore they stepped up to assist,” Smith said.

It had been reported that the museum would have fallen $400,000 short of the funds needed to stay afloat during 2017 and 2018.

Creative Victoria, one of the museum’s main financial supporters, has announced it will perform a review of the gallery’s spending and expenses over the last five years. Until the report is completed the gallery will have limited opening hours from Thursday through Sunday, midday to 5pm.

The donors hope their donation inspires others to contribute.

“It is very crucial for the benefactors that the institution has the interest and support of the local and broader community,” Smith says. “Where and when the local community can support the organisation, our benefactors really encourage that.”

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