Newport City Council’s latest proposed budget cuts in the Learning and Leisure budget will see the Newport Art Gallery Temporary Exhibitions Programme (T.E.P.) scrapped and the post of visual arts officer made redundant. The visual arts officer (VAO) is the artistic programmer for the gallery space. This specialist post has been in place for over 25 years. The budget proposal if approved will see the gallery lose the programme in its entirety as a public service. The approximate saving is £40,000.
The current VAO hopes that supporters of the TEP are given the opportunity to present a case to Cllr Debbie Wilcox (Newport Council Member for Culture) in support of challenging the wisdom of removing the programme – given Cllr Wilcox’s previous public support for the TEP.
The TEP provides the Council and city with long term strategic potential, high profile and high quality public programmes: e.g. - it could be a conduit for showcasing why maintaining some cultural programming benefits the city and help draw down significant additional Arts Council of Wales (ACW) investment in the future. It would greatly enhance the proposed development of a new NCC cultural strategy to maintain this, very active programme rather than remove it. The TEP is a city centre attraction which brings much needed visitors to the centre of Newport. The decision appears to be purely cost saving rather than strategically thought through. In short there is a strong business case for keeping it.
(TEP) is the only artistic programme in the art gallery (it has fixed displays of objects and art only which have remained unchanged for many years) – it is the only dynamic aspect of the art gallery offer. It occupies the main gallery space and includes the newly created smaller space (Oriel Porth). In August the newly refurbished spaces were launched with an exhibition of paintings by Geraint Evans – Cllr. Wilcox helped open it. In late October ex Labour MP Llew Smith’s radical Christmas card collection exhibition opened (which Cllr.Wilcox also spoke at). The complementary ‘Through Disobedience We Progress’ exhibition featured 13 newly commissioned card designs by local, Welsh and UK artists. The current show 56:56 features new work by 23 living Welsh artists. The exhibitions programme drives new and repeat visits to the art gallery, and museum. They generate publicity and interest – visitors are more likely to be attracted to new and rolling programmes, less so to static displays. The TEP is set to be replaced with a single static exhibition drawn from the permanent collections (no further programming after that).
The TEP has enjoyed sustained success and maintained its visitor numbers in recent years – it is also supported by grant funding from Arts Council of Wales (ACW). The 2013 programme was set to present 14 exhibitions including some major names. The visual arts officer has doubled the number of exhibitions on a smaller budget with diminishing staffing resources. The current ACW grant strongly reflects the aspiration to place the TEP on a more sustainable footing and place it at the heart of a city wide cultural offer (and, the VAO was given to understand, an NCC cultural strategy).
The plan to scrap TEP has wider implications: it appears short sighted and removing it surely damages the city’s cultural offer. Presumably the current ACW grant will have to be returned if the TEP is scrapped? The vital service the TEP provides – for residents but also in terms of attracting visitors and positive publicity seems to be being ignored for less than clear reasons. It is rumoured that the art gallery is eventually going to close completely within a year (the implication being that the Council see no value in maintaining a Temporary Exhibition Programme because of such future plans).
The final exhibition is likely to be a solo presentation by David Garner called SHIFT. Scrapping the TEP leaves the art gallery more vulnerable than ever to full closure. Keeping the TEP means a greater profile and the chance to see rolling programmes, opportunities for local artists to exhibit and vitally (if NCC wants to retain this important space) the chance to draw down additional funding support from ACW. Arts Council of Wales support would save the Art Gallery. Artistic programming, in theatres, arts centres, galleries or museums is vital and a cornerstone of a healthy and sustainable cultural presence. At a time when the city seeks to define itself as progressive, attractive and relevant, this seems to fly in the face of its ‘Open for Business’ banner.
The artistic community of Wales is a great supporter of Newport Art Gallery TEP - what happens in the TEP today becomes the history and cultural heritage of tomorrow, of the city of Newport, regionally and on a national level. Literally hundreds of Welsh artists have shown there, not to mention countless other British and international artists too. There is nothing to be gained and everything to lose by closing the TEP. The TEP is a Newport success story which brings in vital arts funding, cultural tourism and is great value for money. The City Council are throwing it away.
The council have still not put this and countless other budget proposals into the public domain – as it stands this proposal will be approved on 26th February 2013 (without any public knowledge or consultation). The council are paying lip service to public consultation – their website invites comments on the budget but nowhere can the actual details of the budget be obtained.