Kim Fielding

Kim Fielding by EG The Welsh arts community is currently reeling at the news that artist, photographer curator, co-founder of tactileBOSCH and all round mover and shaker, Kim Fielding, died suddenly last week, following a suspected heart attack.

Describing Kim in words, particularly when this blow seems so close to home, is difficult. He had a go himself  here  on his Culture Colony profile, but as anyone who has struggled with a personal statement knows, getting a sense of a person through words alone is like describing air without breathing it.

So Kim was all of the things in my introduction, and everything that he writes about in his profile, but then he also a the larger than life figure, screeching up late to a meeting on his bike, or throwing dinner parties for no good reason, except for the pleasure of putting people together in a room over eccentric but delicious feasts. He saw a hole where something might happen, usually for the benefit of many other artists, stepped in and occupied it with a seat-of-the-pants, skin-of-the-teeth derring-do.

The enterprise that was tactileBOSCH  was just a tiny part of his mission to make things happen. He turned his basement in Cardiff’s Riverside into an installation space for Cement Garden; collaborated with Jan Bennett to put a terrifying creature in the basement of an empty building in Llandaff Rd (part of the House project); infiltrated numerous other venues around the city  – most recently the Wells Hotel, Nos Da bar, a couple of  buildings at the back of Milgis in Roath, the Wales Millennium Centre and even Urban Outfitters – ventured forth to Berlin, New York and South America (to name just a few of his international adventures), but always came back home to make another pot of hair-liftingly strong coffee for all of us who passed through his flat.

And those coffee drinkers kept getting more numerous by the day as he scooped up new emerging talent as it popped out of Cardiff Art School (and often before the talent had fledged he offered a proving ground for ideas), groomed new curators for their first shows,  ran the most exhilarating photography courses (Room 101) or simply just got out and about and met people, scooped them up and made many of them his willing slaves (I can still retrieve the memory of the smell left in my car after somehow agreeing to transport industrial quantities of rubbish from tactileBOSCH).Kim prepping Max for Room 101Kim had a can-do attitude and artists tentatively suggesting a new idea to him would always get the reply, “hmm, yes I think we can do something with that”, followed by action and realisation.

And the Kim Fielding laugh was something else – descending into a kind of honking snort that was utterly infectious – and frequently heard. If something really tickled him he’d cry out “barking!” at the top of his voice. Irresistible, irrepressible and occasionally exasperating because he was juggling so very many projects and ideas at once. If I was due to meet Kim at a given time I’d generally block off a few hours afterwards to allow for the shifting sands of his day.

We first met when I was working for the Arts Council of Wales. That initial meeting probably based on a budget crisis as the sums didn’t always add up and there was often a danger of a grant for tactileBOSCH’s programme being reclaimed. The applications themselves were works of art in themselves – hundreds of different fonts, in different colours and peppered with exclamation marks – as eccentric and colourful as the man who put them together.

It was a while before Kim thought to apply for funding on his own behalf and finally got himself some time to focus on himself with funding from the Arts Council of Wales. He spent the time developing new strands of his work, which he describes like this:

“Although a photographer by trade my personal artwork is based in video / installation / written word / sound & vision. Invariably lens based – it usually revolves around the story or essence of the protagonist I might be working with [or against]. Often a response in hindsight to the entanglements of personal relationships and the power therein, ‘an innovative combination of photo-visual and the human condition’ quote and un-quote.”

However this doesn’t even begin to describe the imagery that he created, which was often confrontational or provocative and occasionally disturbing. He’d find models for his photographs and films in the most unlikely places, drag them off the streets and, before they knew it, have them bound or gagged or covered in some sticky and hard-to-remove substance (sometimes all at the same time) or put them in an immersion tank or nail them into a crate. I should add that they were always willing victims of the Fielding charm and often came back to go through the whole experience again.

Alongside his activities to support other artists and the work that he made himself, Kim was also an inveterate documenter of arts activity and it will be the life’s work of many of his friends to collect, collate, archive, curate and edit all of the photographs, videos and ephemera associated with Kim’s all too short time with us. There is so much to say about Kim Fielding, but it’ll take a long time yet before the full mosaic of this rich and wonderful life is pulled together, piece by colourful piece. In the meantime there is a giant void as we all come to terms with sadness of someone who did so much and meant so much to so many.Kim Fielding at Blowback You can hear Kim talking about how he set up tactileBOSCH with Simon Mitchell in my inept interview with him in 2009 (click on the image below to hear it). Kim Fielding 2009, img EG Or watch him talk about tB here courtesy of Culture Colony, or sample the essence of tactileBOSCH in this video of the Addiction show. [Please note that there are some images that might offend or disturb some readers in the last link and those that follow]. And if you want to see him with his work – here he is at the opening of his show Sidewinder at Oriel Canfas in 2009.

The funeral will be held at 2.45pm on Friday 21 February at the Wenallt Chapel, Thornhill Crematorium, Thornhill road, Cardiff, CF14 9UA. at 2.45pm Map here.

With thanks to Pete Telfer and Culture Colony for all of the links to video content in

*** UPDATE***

Following the death of Kim Fielding a group of friends and family decided that the best way to mark his extraordinary life and contribution to the arts in Wales and beyond was to set up an award in his memory – The Kim Fielding Award

The award was launched on 24 October at the tactileBOSCH exhibition Paradise Lost, which, in true Kim Fielding form, included works by some 90 artists in the old Customs and Immigration building in Cardiff’s Bute Town and the crowd funding campaign achieved its £5,000 target in two weeks.

A Kind of Departure

CCQ Issue 1Cover.pdf

Earlier on this year I decided that rather than bemoan the limited platforms for contemporary art in Wales I should get up off my sedentary bottom and do something about it. And so, with the help of two colleagues from blown magazine (which I was deputy editor for from 2009 until the final issue November 2012), and with a lot of other help and support from a staggering array of people, I give you Culture Colony Quarterly Magazine (CCQ).

This is a new, independent perspective on the arts in Wales and folds in the many different genres and disciplines, because everything has a context. It is internationally facing, because so much of what happens in Wales resonates across the world and there are so many creative practitioners who either live here or collaborate with our artists that it would be foolish not to recognise the links and connections that send the creativity that happens in Wales to all the corners of the globe (which, being round, has no corners).

Those of you who are familiar with our partner organisation Culture Colony will understan, the drivers behind our new project. CCQ is as much about the conversation as it is about profile and is as interested in the motivations behind the production of art as the finished work.

I am going to concentrate my efforts on the magazine and the web site, as they both develop in response to the feedback from the community of artists and audiences that we serve, but reserve the right to come back here from time to fulminate about things that might not fit within the magazine’s remit.

Thank you for following this blog and for your feedback and endorsements across so many platforms. I was a reluctant blogger and initially started as part of my post graduate diploma in journalism at Cardiff University (which I cannot recommend highly enough to all wannabe journalists) but, since graduating in 2010, it has become an important outlet for me to let loose my thoughts and responses to various things close to my heart and has, occasionally, even led to paid work as a journalist and to all manner of interesting side projects.

I hope you will keep an eye on CCQ as it evolves. As I write I am surrounded by the smell of fresh ink (on matte Hello silk 130gsm with a fluorescent spot colour for you print junkies). The internet is a wonderful place but there’s still magic in print so please do try and get hold of our first issue, which will be rolling out across Wales, the UK and internationally, like a tea stain on a duvet, from tomorrow.

The Starry Messenger – Bedwyr Williams at the Venice Biennale

Wylo - Bedwyr Williams 2013

Wales is back out in Venice for its sixth Venice Biennale and this time Bedwyr Williams has been selected to represent Wales at the Ludoteca in Castello. His solo show The Starry Messenger has just opened and is already stirring up a whole heap of media interest.

But what’s it like?

It’s like this: I am four or five years old, in the grip of a stomach bug that imprisons me in the tiny bathroom of my early childhood flat. There’s nothing to do but sit this one out and stare at the floor – old lino, printed to look like really bad terrazzo flooring. My eyes try to make sense of the odd shapes and blobs on the floor. The more I stare at them, the more the blobs seem to rise up to meet me and I experience a sinking feeling, like a pebble falling slowly into an abyss or an alternate universe. Gastro enteritis can do that to you. So can Bedwyr Williams and that memory floats to the surface of my mind as I get to grips with his obsession with terrazzo, linked to his love of amateur astronomy.

Let me walk you through The Starry Messenger.

Step off  the dog shit festooned Venetian streets, out of the sun, or the sudden soaking shower that releases the smell of said shit and the perfume of the ubiquitous Tracheleospermum Jasminoides in equal measure. Inside the Ludoteca it is cool and dark. A mesh curtain printed to look like terrazzo is see-through enough to reveal what looks like a stargazer’s observatory beyond it. Through the curtain to peer at this large white erection (how did that get through the door then?) and there’s a sound of manly despair, endless looped sobbing. The door is ajar. The roof open, pointing at the heavens depicted on the ceiling and studded with tiny metal stars.

Wylo, 2013 - Bedwyr Williams (image Anna Arca)Keep up now, we’re going into the next room to one of those ponds that feature in posh lifstyle magzines. Not an infinity pool but one that should be full of koi carp so expensive they make insurers nervous and owners take out contract killings on neighbouring cats. No fish in here though. Instead giant blocks of what look like granite but can’t be because they’re floating on the surface to a soundtrack of things breaking up or breaking down. It’s dark with blue lights to help make out the contours of these drifting chunks.

The Depth, 2013 - Bedwyr Williams (image Anna Arca)On down a dark corridor studded with tiny orange lights –  like cosmic emergency lighting on a budget airline – and into a space where giant dark geometric forms loom all around and overhead, picked out by lights that pulse and change colour. We are small as molecules in terrazzo – if these are the quartz or granite chips then we are flecks of cement or sand.

Obelix, 2013 - Bedwyr Williams (image Anna Arca)So, feeling cut down to size, we stumble out into a brightly lit room, dominated by an immense glass-topped coffee table that we stare at from underneath. Its surface is strewn with seemingly randomly selected objects – if you tear up the Ikea and Argos catalogues and place anything that comes out as a whole image around the floor, this is sort of the effect, but there’s obviously a rationale between the choice of these objects that we’re peering up at, a cosmos of consumables with a white coat hanger gently swaying in the breeze of an office fan. If it weren’t for the steady flow of visitors we could lie on the floor and try and make sense of them.

The Northern Hemisphere, 2013 - Bedwyr Williams (image Anna Arca)Onwards to the room where threads are woven together, but not necessarily into a garment you can immediately wear (think of those skirts that seem to have extra pouches, flaps and hanging straps). Sit with me on the bleachers, put on the radio headphones and here is Williams taking us on one of his surreal journeys. So we imagine we’re a chunk of something, probably a bit of rock and, to become part of the terrazzo, we’ll have to live with the idea of being ground down to a polished surface, the backs of our heads buffed away to a big wound (but don’t worry, Williams assures us it’ll scab over and we seem to be able to deal with this sacrifice).

The Starry Messenger, 2013 (Film Still) - Bedwyr Williams (image Emma Geliot)Williams appears with a mosaic head, his outline instantly recognisable as his famous performance hat has been given the mosaic treatment too. (Dazed Digital gives you a two minute clip here so you get the idea)

For me to replicate the narrative would be ridiculous, it is convincing in the moment, but the imagery is fantastic and takes in everything from bondage to dentists.

Out of the dark and into the light again. Allow a few minutes for the ears to adjust to the chirruping sound that fills the little transitional courtyard. Are they crickets? Cicadas? Grasshoppers? Whatever they are one of them has just farted.

Exit through the broom cupboard, curated (for want of a better word) by Williams so that objects are arranged in a way that implies a relationship between things. Disturbing sounds of dentistry fill this claustrophobic space. I am happy to leave with my jaw aching.

Nearly done now. Out to the last part – a pile of neatly stacked little leaflets featuring a narrative that takes in perfume. I don’t know this as I pick one up, but my nose catches a whiff of expensive scent (Tom Ford I am reliably informed). The devil is in these details.

Behind the scenes of this show – one of the hot picks of the Biennale – is a vast team of curators (the show is co-curated by Oriel Davies and MOSTYN); technicians; fixers, committee members; administrators; invigilators; manufacturers, animators; art transporters; press and pr people with the Arts Council of Wales’ Louise Wright acting as Commissioner and Williams getting extra support from his gallery, Ceri Hand.This is no tuppeny ha’penny operation. The party is full of fancy folk, chatting over gin or Penderyn Whisky and the sausage rolls that made the Wales party famous years ago. Williams gives us another performance and we are moles again, as we were a few months ago when this project was launched in London and St Fagans. You’ll get the idea here.

Bedwyr Williams performing at the Wales party, Venice 2013 (image Emma Geliot)

You can also see more pictures of the show here courtesy of the BBC.

Or, if you can’t make it to Italy, wait for the show to tour Wales once the Venice Biennale shuts up shop again in November (if you don’t live in Wales, here’s a reason to visit).

I’m off to polish my head.

Bread Tomorrow & David Garner

On Saturday April  20 2013 the last temporary exhibition opened at Newport Museum & Art Gallery.  This is the text of an address given by writer and critic Hugh Adams at the opening of the exhibition Shift by David Garner, reproduced here in its entirety with Hugh’s kind permission:

At the outset let me state my belief, best expressed by the American critic and artist Richard Nonas, that qualifying the word Art through prefacing it with such terms as Community, Outsider, Public etc., serves only to diminish it. Particularly in the present context I would say Political as an adjective is equally damaging, applied to the word Art and to the word artist. It is too easy to characterise, and in actuality marginalise, the artist with the description “political”. David Garner is not a political artist, describing him as such is to diminish him. He may well be political but because he is a humanist and a radical being, rather than on the narrow basis of adherence to a particular political philosophy.

Victorian temporary exhibitions were “packed with working class visitors, whereas today they are the preserve of the upper and middle classes, DCMS surveys show that only 7.4% of visitors are working class.” However, in the 19th Century, exhibition galleries had to have evening openings to accommodate large numbers of what press reports called the “lower orders”. A startling statistic is that “…in 1872 nearly one million East Enders visited the Bethnal Green Museum in the first six months of opening” and such numbers were common in the new museums and galleries, built like their new churches, to keep the working classes from insurrection against their appalling working and living conditions.

Despite considerable rhetoric to the contrary and undeniably, some good practice, art has increasingly become the preserve of the upper and middle classes, with payment for entry to temporary exhibitions becoming common. Museum entry charges have always been a political touchstone issue and charging is an issue postponed by this pathetic doctrinaire government until it has undermined more ‘important’ targets first – all things perceived by it as socialistic: health care, education, welfare and education.

Historically, Newport has been among the exceptions to this post-war hijacking of art from the working classes. Its collections are comprehensive and express working-class culture and interests, alongside ascendancy ones. Its temporary exhibitions programmes have been excellent in their diversity, free to all and have not only acted as important stimuli and support for education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels in the South Wales communities but frequently offered considerable, in many cases, the only, opportunity to Welsh artists to develop and show their work.

An art exhibition in a gallery is a highly complex entity. The latter’s roles and responsibilities are often imperfectly understood, not least by politicians. It is not just bunging things up on walls, that really is the tip of a large iceberg, but intensive research, curatorship, networks of relationships, insurance, advice to artists, liaison with schools etc. Testimony to this is the exhibition catalogue for the imminent “Summer Show” (another ‘last exhibition’, this time at the soon to close Howard Gardens Gallery of Cardiff Metropolitan University). Its director, Richard Cox, who has personally and professionally, himself given huge support to art and artists in Newport, pays tribute to the work of Newport Art Gallery over many years.“Anyone familiar with it”, he writes, “would acknowledge and remember the excellent work carried out by Roger Cucksey, Sandra Jackaman, Robin Hawkins and Shaun Featherstone and their support staff, this deserves to be recognised and applauded. We cannot afford to lose such important resources and Newport will be a less interesting city as a direct result of these cutbacks”.

Researching for my books “Imaging Wales” and “Re: imaging Wales”, I consulted the welcoming, generous and efficient Sandra Jackaman and her archives here and so had access to anecdotal and documentary information which in my assessment was not replicable elsewhere in Wales, or indeed elsewhere, at the time. What happens to all that now?

And talking of assessments: I have spent a large part of my career undertaking ‘feasibility studies’ for developing cultural enterprises, such things as public art programmes and frequently galleries. So far I have heard nothing regarding the ending of the temporary exhibitions programme here, or the plan to relocate temporary art exhibitions to Riverside Arts Centre which even approaches either plausibility or sense, cultural or economic. As it is the building is totally unsuitable for any worthwhile form of art exhibition, or indeed museum display. What I have heard mooted so far seems to smack of manna mañana: bread tomorrow. It will be local authority drift, in the hope the protagonists will tire, or forget. Otherwise, why didn’t the council at least set up a group of appropriate professionals to work with it to examine sustainable alternatives first, instead of this dull uncreative abolition by fiat?

My whole life has been spent in cultural and educational bureaucracies and I’ve learned that “initiatives” and orthodoxies, however discredited, can be relied upon to come around again. Hence it was with a sense of déjà vu that I read a recent speech given at the Royal Society of Arts by the former creative director of “Big Brother”, the new chair of Arts Council England.  He warned against arts cuts (well, he would wouldn’t he?) saying that the new Heseltine plan for regional growth should “centre on culture” and that those seeking cash to “unlock the potential of their region” should “put the arts at the centre of their bid”. He goes on the say “There is no city in Britain that does not understand the importance of the arts and culture, both as central to the life of the city and to the local economy”. Well, I know of one exception, with local councillors apparently unaware of arts-based regeneration plans and the successes of such places as Liverpool and Gateshead in this respect. Interestingly, in Newport there seems on their part a lack of awareness of its successes in the recent past in this respect (despite abundant visual evidence around them in public art of the first quality). They clearly do not understand the arguments, if they have even addressed them, and go in for the easy option, taking refuge in “social priorities arguments”, as tired as they are mistaken.

The “City of Newport”? Well you can change the road signs and rename ‘Newport Town’ ‘Newport City’, just as you can ‘Newport Athletic’ ‘Newport Spurs’ but you do nothing to improve its performance if that’s all you do.

A city, in order to have plausibility and be worthy of the name, needs at least aspire to certain things in terms of institutions, infrastructure and even the quality of debate maintaining within it. Here in Newport, even ground gained in the past through cultural enterprise is being given up. Acquiring plausibility goes far beyond the pomposity of renaming and re-badging. How do you attract new industry by offering potential employees a dead, cultureless centre; what do you put to tempt them in the corporate brochures and the city’s marketing publications?

And there has been another wound to the city’s plausibility. University College Newport, a renowned world-wide as an educator in the visual arts, particularly photography, has had its very identity as in and of Newport compromised (Where is the University of South Wales?). And how will it convince potential students that Newport is a vivacious place to study, when the nearest decent exhibition venues no nearer than Bristol and Cardiff and Cwmbran? “Destination Newport”? Well, for golf, or snooker, maybe!

In thinking of David Garner and his current exhibition Shift, these things are associated in my mind, for they are all complementary problems and intrinsic to his present and historical cultural and social concern. He encompasses the big picture, as well as the minutiae, as now do I. Does the fact that £10million, according to – I’m confident understated – figures, is spent by the state on a funeral, I’m not going into whose and that £10million is to be spent on some kind of glass canopy for that bastion of proletarian entertainment, the South Bank Centre, have anything to do with the situation in Newport? What’s not to be angry about in the blitzing, both clandestine and overt, of public social and cultural institutions?

The arts and culture ought not to be regarded as competing priorities with social services and healthcare (it is interesting that it is a healthcare union which has sponsored this exhibition) but organically linked. The investment bankers, the arms dealers and the posh convicted criminals, quite a few of whom were on the guest list for the above-mentioned funeral, I noticed, are all for public spending when it comes to subsidising the Royal Opera House, or improvements to regional airports, where they can land in executive jets but not so keen on publicly funded hospitals, unless they have an accident, or a child born with a condition for which the private sector is not resourced, in which case they are temporary socialists.

This is why David’s work is so important – marginalisation of the left, trade union membership, of whatever hue and indeed dissident opinion in general, continues apace. In fact, anyone who brings attention to absurd policies, protests at injustices, or expresses a radical opinion, is demonized, labelled strident and even in the case of the obsequies mentioned, vulgar, tasteless and untimely. Why are all these things linked?

There are now people in the Newport communities who cannot afford to eat properly; many cannot even afford to get to the city centre. Yet this is a part of the world where the working class has produced artists, musicians, great scientists, distinguished linguists, philosophers and writers with international reputations. Public education and self-education have been central to all that and free cultural provision was another main engineer of it. I am talking capitalism and investment here, investment in all our assets, all our children and all our people. Why are we filling our universities with moneyed mediocrities and effectively excluding thousands of able people who can’t pay? And so to Aberfan: “A for is for Aberfan”, where many of the working class children man slaughtered through metropolitan cynicism and neglect, would have gone on to universities and occupations of value to their communities, in a way that is becoming increasingly difficult today.

Much of David Garner’s work in “Shift” reminds us of the extent to which we in Britain are reverting to becoming an early 19th Century society, just as he reminds us in his other work of the medievalism of modern war-lords and the victims of attitudes still medieval. When Christ said “Feed My sheep”, he wasn’t thinking about just loaves and fishes, but ideas. We need intellectual stimulation to go with the bread. We need galleries and exhibitions as fundamental to education and to equipping our children to be critical, to challenge orthodoxies, to see “Big Brother” for what it is and ensure that all people get both bread and intellectual stimulation.

It was with pleasure that accepted the invitation to open this exhibition by David Garner, a great artist of integrity. That pleasure does little to temper my sadness at what is to happen when it closes and that such things are happening in a place which seems to have lost sight of its radical history is dismaying and frankly disgusting.”

© Hugh Adams Bristol 2013

We Protest

It was freezing as a crowd gathered outside Newport Museum & Art Gallery to protest against the ending of the temporary exhibitions programme yesterday (21.02.2013).Image

A lively group ranging from babies to some of the artists who have shown in the gallery over the years and on to anarchists, art lovers, curious passers-by, even film crews and journalists swelled the protest to around a hundred, while across Wales others showed their support by waving their own placards, sending messages and, of course, signing the petition (currently running at over 1300). Oh, and there were giant puppets too,

Newport giant puppets EG 2013

Placards were waved, whistles blown and tooters tooted in front of the building that sports a huge poster proudly stating that Newport Is Open For Business…

Newport Open For Business poster & protestors…but the real picture in John Frost Square says something else.

Newport Empty shops 01 EG 2013It’s full of empty shops, cleared to make way for a new development that was put on hold, leaving the are in front of the gallery as a retail wasteland. And Newport has suffered more than most as the recession bites deep and the High Street chains pull out of the main shopping drags. Despite an initiative to revive the empty retail units with U.R.B.A.N.’s  lively programme of exhibitions and events was only ever going to be a sticking plaster on a city that’s lost its cultural compass.

Despite having the University of Wales presence throughout the city, which of course includes the European Centre for Photographic Research (and the final year of the Fine Art course) there seems to be no effort to retain graduates, although last year’s first graduate showcase, Fresh Paint, as part of the now  threatened temporary exhibitions programme (TEP) had begun to address a real need. But that will go when the TEP goes and the decision will be made next week, marking the end of forty years of changing exhibitions designed to entertain, bemuse, educate, delight or even enrage local residents and visitors. And if the rumours are to be believed (they were repeated so many times to me that I’m feeling convinced), then the whole building will close next year: permanent collection; museum. library and visitor information point.

Where once Newport seemed to have art and culture at the heart of its regeneration, with an on-going commitment to commissioning public art, now all of that seems to be going backwards. Even the famous and much-loved Chartist mural is doomed to demolition to make way for the new shopping development.

If the protests (more are planned), the petition, the lobbying, the Facebook and twitter campaigns and even straightforward pleading fails to persuade Newport Council to change its mind, then the future – for a city that needs all the unique selling points it can muster to lure in visitors from an M4 that can whisk them to neighbouring Bristol or Cardiff and the cultural vibe that makes shopping and wandering around, spending money, seem so much more attractive – seems bleak indeed.

When I spoke to Fine Art and Photography students at a careers fair at the university last month, they were asked how many were planning on staying in Newport post-graduation. An alarmingly few hands went up – less than a fistful of fingers. Why would they stay when there are few studio spaces (none run or supported by the council), no professional exhibition spaces, no opportunities to make public art and only  temprorary projects that seem to exist on a political whim?

Next week I’m off to Abertillery to join in the Arts Council of Wales’ Open Space session. In it we’re invited to consider the question:” What kind of creative Wales would you like to see by 2020 and how do we get there?” It’s an eight hour session, but the short answer would be: “I’d like to see a Wales where art is valued by everyone, especially politicians”. And if the politicians in Newport don’t get their cultural act together soon, we’ll be looking at a artistic void on the map of Wales, which no amount of swanky new shops will fill.

Newport Open For Business

Michael Sheen Joins Fight to Save Newport Gallery

Michael Sheen joined the fight to save the Temporary Exhibitions Programme at Newport Art Gallery today. He’s quoted in the South Wales Argus but here’s what he said in full:

“I am hugely disturbed to hear of the plans to close Newport Art Gallery’s Temporary Exhibition Programme. Not only because of what that would mean to the numerous homegrown artists who would lose precious, and in many cases the first significant exposure for their work, as well as the thousands of visiting people to the area who would lose the opportunity to discover and enjoy this valuable Programme, but also because of what it suggests about the future plans for funding of the Art Gallery and the entire Museum itself. I am especially disturbed by the lack of information and openness to the public about why these cuts are happening and that we the public have no opportunity to be a part of this discussion or have any influence on the decisions that are being taken by those who purport to be representing our interests. The importance of culture and the relationship between the Arts and the health of our society is all too often alarmingly misunderstood and at worst completely ignored. This is perilously dangerous for not only artists at work today, both established and emerging, but also for a new generation of young people growing up starved of the inspiration and vision that exposure to art can bring. How can we create a better, more compassionate, more just tomorrow, if we are robbed of the vision for such things that art engenders, today?”

You can sign the petition to save the programme here

Chop, Chop, Chop – more arts cuts


This has been a disturbing week for the visual arts in Wales and the wider museums sector: We heard that National Museums  Wales will be shedding around 35 jobs and that after six years Mermaid & Monster will stop their work of promoting artists at art fairs.

The M&M website has already vanished but you can read the statement here  or send messages of support here. However there was something else that almost slipped under my radar. In his email to tell me about the end of M&M, Gordon Dalton told me what the future holds for M&M, “There’ll be a couple of M&M shows this year, but we had been working on our largest show to date at Newport Museum – which has now been cancelled due to closure – this has left a big gap in our work.”

Did you spot that bombshell? If the rumour mill is to be believed (and I have several very reliable sources for this information), the temporary exhibitions programme (TEP) seems to be succumbing to the swingeing cuts that local authorities are making to save money. Try as I might (and this blog follows many hours of scouring through council minutes on the Newport Council website) I can find no publicly available resolution to axe this really important programme, previously featured in my other blog posts (Andrew Cooper here and Simon Fenoulhet here), but The South Wales Argus picked it up before Christmas in this story.

Simon Fenoulhet 1

Since the Arts Council of Wales Investment Review, 2010, whose outcome was announced just before the depth and severity of the economic crisis had really been computed, local authorities have come under increasing pressure to trim what they might term “non essential” services, i.e. those that they have no statutory obligation to deliver and the arts were always going to be an easy target. The recent furore around the 100% arts funding cuts in Newcastle  might make the cutting of the programme at NMAG look modest in comparison, but then in Newport there’s little else to cut, no other public galleries in a city sandwiched between Cardiff and Bristol that should/could be attracting audiences from both catchments to help revive its failing fortunes in the wake of the withdrawal of some of the major High St chains and the downsizing (though thankfully not now the closure) of the Passport Office in Newport. As the new city centre development gets back on track after a long hiatus, the museum and art gallery will be right next to a big part of the development.

But contemporary gallery programmes are not just about leisure/pleasure. Along with creating destinations for cultural tourists (who spend lots of money as a result of their visits – see here if you like statistics), they are also a way of engaging communities with ideas and with the notion of continuing their education and thinking beyond the classroom, and this is how entrepreneurship can be encouraged, along with the first steps into further education opportunities. So losing jobs at the National Museum or at Newport Museum & Art Gallery seems to be counter-productive as Wales struggles to roll with the financial punches.And, of course, gallery visitors, interested in contemporary art, are also interested in contemporary theatre, so what impact would the closure of the NM&AG temporary exhibitions programme have on audiences for The Riverfront, which also has a series of gallery spaces (albeit more community focussed than NM&AG’s)?

Later today Rosemary Butler AM, Assembly Member for Newport West since 1999 and Presiding Officer of the National Assembly will be opening 56:56 an exhibition that celebrates 56 years of 56 Group Wales. It opens at 11.30am and all are welcome to get along to show support. As far as I can gather, this will be the penultimate show in the Temporary Exhibitions Programme, which has been running for over 40 years. I sincerely hope that she will lend her support to the programme in any public consultation that must surely follow a decision to close the TEP.

Fresh Paint 2

If lost, we will also be saying goodbye to an important new strand of work to create a showcase for recent graduates – Fresh Paint in 2012, brought together emerging artists from art schools across South Wales. Visual Arts Officer, Shaun Featherstone, planned  to expand the reach across Wales and over the border. This is particularly sad as NM&AG was really beginning to connect with the Fine Art Course at University of Wales, Newport.

But of course, the Fine Art course is coming to an end and I’ll be giving what I can only imagine will be last talk to Fine Art Students at UWN as part of Creative Futures 2013. What can I tell them? That the opportunities for them to continue their practice in Newport and contribute to it’s creative and economic future have now shrunk further? When I look at the buzz created by artists in Cardiff and Swansea, supported by the hubs of the council funded galleries I can see that there is so much that Newport could be achieving, so much new additional funding that can be drawn into the city, stimulating activity for the benefit of the wider community.

The Radical Xmas Card show 2

I hope the rumours are wrong – please use the comments posts to let me know if you can confirm or deny them or to add your voice. Local Authority budgets for the next year will be set soon so if action is needed it will have to be quick. I’ll be following up on this as the picture becomes clearer.

Update #1 there’s now an online petition to save the exhibition programme at NMAG you can sign it here

Update #2 NMAG has approximately 28,000 visitors per year, or 90 per day. If they each spend a modest £2.50 (and most cultural tourism multipliers are many times higher) that’s £70,000 that goes into the local community, not to mention rail and bus fares.

Before the Arts Council of Wales’ Investment Review, NMAG had an ACW revenue grant of £42,374. The programme costs Newport £40,000 to run, including salaries, on-costs and the programme budget, the latter is supplemented by a current Arts Council of Wales Lottery grant of £13,314. This would have delivered fourteen exhibitions, but the programme will be curtailed if the cuts are approved. The TEP also enables exhibiting artists to apply for funding to create new works for their exhibition at NMAG (and many of the exhibitions are of new work not seen anywhere else), supporting the wider arts economy in Wales and helping to retain talent.

If you want to register your concern about the proposed cut to the Temporary Exhibitions Programme at NMAG you can write to the Leader of Newport Council, Councillor Bob Bright (contact details here) and if you live in Newport you can contact the Councillor for your ward here and/or take part in the public consultation about budget cuts here, but be quick, all responses must be in by Feb 13 in advance of the council meeting on Feb 26. NB there is no reference in the consultation documents to the closure of NMAG’s TEP nor of other culture cuts so it’s difficult to see how the public are supposed to make an informed decision.