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Sent From Coventry

Part of the Coventry City of Culture fantasy, called Thirteen Ways of Looking, is the contribution of the Herbert Art Gallery. It will pack them in like never before. This is what you’ll find from the 13 artists … “X explores ideologies of gender and cultural dominance, exploring the place of Pakistani women within marital and domestic spaces; X works with pattern and textile, addressing issues surrounding feminism, faith, Muslim women and women of colour; X explores Cypriot cultural displacement which she activates through archives; X expresses colonisation, war, lost histories and identities; X tells the story of a Chinese woman having recently migrated to a Western country; X focuses on the migrant experience, specifically around journeys, environment, storytelling and documentary; X breaks up the exhibition space and “decentres” the spectator from the usual way that the gallery space is utilised; X works in response to the New Cross Massacre – 1981 in which 13 young black people lost their lives in an apparent act of racist violence; X was part of the BLK Art Group, a group producing work that engaged directly with the socio-political issues of the time; X explores the experiences of persons who have left their country of origin and who are now at ‘home’ in another; X explores the experiences of persons who have left their country of origin and who are now at ‘home’ in another; X makes use of the disruptive connotations of collage and montage to undo the association of the nation with fascism; X explores Black female subjectivities within narratives of the future; through deconstruction and disorder X challenges the way audiences predominantly view and experience art within a white cube space.”

As the head of Coventry’s culture stated, a very diverse collection indeed. Not to mention more exploring than Humboldt.

Change in the Air?

In September Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden sent a letter to 22 public bodies warning them that unless they show impartiality they might lose their public subsidy. He stated: “The Government does not support the removal of statues or other similar objects.” He also advised them that they “should not be taking actions motivated by activism or politics.” The letter was sent to major museums as well as quangos like the Arts Council. With a spending review imminent, the following was an obvious threat: “The significant support that you receive from the taxpayer is an acknowledgement of the important cultural role you play for the entire country,” he wrote. “It is imperative that you continue to act impartially, in line with your publicly funded status, and not in a way that brings this into question.” 

Soon after Dowden’s letter, Baroness Stowell, chair of the Charity Commission, addressed her organisation’s annual meeting. Here are some extracts: “And one of the most important ways in which we will deliver on that purpose is by helping charities and others understand what the public expect of charity and what they value about it – beyond the specific causes which individual charities promote … Being a registered charity carries with it the weight of certain public expectations. And any gap between these expectations and reality risks damaging the standing of charity in the eyes of the public … Charities need to understand that their status is not a badge that once gained grants legitimacy in perpetuity … Because charity is not a bottomless well of goodwill it has to be lived and demonstrated. Not misused for political expediency. So I am determined to ensure the Commission protects the boundaries of charity.”

Dowden and the Baroness might follow up their remarks by looking at the activities of the ICA which we’ve frequently identified here as promoting political agendas which have nothing to do with either their charitable status or art. Despite its atrocious performance the ICA has recently been given a £789,000 bail-out by the Treasury.

The Crocs are Crying Again

The Royal Academy is to shed 150 jobs, 30% of its workforce (it has 371 full-time employees) in order to save £8 million a year. The plague has cost it 75% of its annual revenue. So here is a charity in need of state charity. They’ve applied for a grant from the £1.57 billion 404 Not Found culture fund by the Chancellor but haven’t yet heard how much he’s prepared to divvy up. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to wait until they know exactly how much they’ll get before they make threats against jobs? They say that redundancies will affect all layers of the organisation, from the bottom right through to the bit just above the bottom. One obvious solution might be to ask the 130 RAs to pay for their membership as they would in any other Gentleman’s Club. And why not just cut down on the number of RAs, a large proportion of whom are useless and shouldn’t be there anyway. At the moment the most famous and well-heeled artists of the day are the first beneficiaries of this Charity – which in the perverse, topsy-turvy world of State Art is probably considered exemplary. 

Coverage of this story featured in every case the old chestnut that the RA is independent and doesn’t receive any public subsidy … Yes, that lie again. The RA calls itself “privately funded” but lives rent free in a building owned by you and me. But they wouldn’t pay much for a palace on Piccadilly, would they? Palaces in Mayfair? Ten a penny. And neither do they receive anything from the Lottery, which doesn’t count as public subsidy, even though it is. Anyway, it was only £12.7 million. What’s free rent and a handful of peanuts between friends?

The RA has 22 employees earning over £60,000 a year, with six of these earning more than the Director of Tate Britain. It has £47 million in investments and £98 million in fixed assets. The President is paid £70,000 p.a., the Secretary £180,000 p.a. and the Keeper £50,000 p.a.. The RA’s own collection comprises 990 paintings and 25,000 drawings and prints.

They borrowed £10 million to join the front and back of the building which they have to start paying back in 15 years and on which they pay low interest rates. As soon as this redundancy story emerged it immediately provoked the idea of selling the Michelangelo tondo or other works from their extensive collection that hardly anyone ever sees. It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve flogged stuff in order to live high on our hog for a little while longer. An unnamed RA, doubtless some Trot in a silly hat, was quoted as saying the sale was justified.

Masked Balls

Pre-plague average daily attendance at the British Museum was 18,000. The current daily intake is 2,200. Assuming the average stay is a couple of hours (probably less considering most foreign visitors exhibit interest in virtually nothing other than the advertised crown jewels) and the daily opening is eight hours, at any one time there must be a maximum of 550 inside. Across the entire site, which in square footage probably exceeds by five times the average out-of-town superstore, that represents a far more sparse scattering of visitors than you’d get in, say, Tesco’s where entry is free, easy and unbooked to all-comers.

The DCMS should stop dithering, get a move on and allow museums and galleries to throw open their doors and let visitors take their chances while behaving responsibly. What likelihood is there in any museum or gallery of spending “sustained face-to-face contact with a stranger”? The


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answer is none. You can’t catch Covid19 from Pericles.

As the Director of the British Museum said recently: “People are like oxygen to the British Museum. We can’t wait to have people back breathing life into the space. The whole point of a museum is to share our collections with people. We need people back, we need their input. People will be able to see the museum in a way they haven’t seen it before.”

That said the BM, being empty, is a better place to visit now than it has been for at least 50 years. Fill your boots while you can.

Not to be Trusted with History

“Active fun and

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useful experiences.” This, it turns out, is the future of the National Trust whose pictures will be put into store to make room for something, er, ‘more useful’. The NT, which for some Wokeist reason is troubled by its own elitism, rejects accusations of dumbing down to raise cash in order to replenish losses incurred during the lockdown. They have reduced the number of specialist curators from 131 to 80 while, no doubt, introducing expensive consultants to advise on how to attract those who aren’t members and who are otherwise uninterested in our history. Why not just change the name to The Disney Trust: build a Big Dipper at Petworth and snake part of it rattling in a glass tunnel through that unforgettable sculpture gallery? [Don’t be ridiculous. Ed] The Trust’s silly flirtation with contemporary work of a State Art persuasion, which hardly anyone understands, justifies or wants to see, has clearly not had cash registers ringing the anticipated tune.

The NT has promised that they will be “meaningful and relevant for the 21st century.” Oh no not that!