Art Gallery Friends final word

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The final meeting of the Friends of Rye Art Gallery (FRAG) was held on April 2 at St Mary’s Centre. The meeting was opened by Paddy Harvey, Chairman of FRAG, he welcomed the FRAG caretaker committee representatives, Heidi Foster (Treasurer), Lyn Arlotte and Gill Harvey (Secretary) as well as two of the Trustees, Michael Miller (Chairman of the Trustee Board) and Trevor Llanwarne, newly appointed to the Board to advise on strategy, finance and planning.

Paddy Harvey informed the large audience that the Friends’ Caretaker Committee has resolved to dissolve the charity, since it had not proved possible to form a new committee. In accordance with the FRAG constitution, the winding-up would take effect three months from the date of the posting of a notice to the members.

Following this, the business of the meeting started, There was a question from the floor about the proposal at a previous meeting by Davida Smith that she mediate with the Trustees to see if there was a way forward between FRAG and the Trustees. Davida Smith had sent an email to Paddy Harvey that said that she had come to the conclusion that this was not possible.

The accounts were presented by Heidi Foster and she was thanked for handling them over this rather challenging time. Discussion then followed on the use to be made of the monies remaining in the FRAG accounts, a sum of £9,119.80. A number of ideas were put forward by the audience, but it was decided that a decision could not be reached without hearing the presentations from the two Trustees. Some proposals were immediately ruled out by the floor, such as the restoration of the basement as a store, and there was a very clear message that there must be a specific project for their use.

The next item concerned the replacement of FRAG membership with that of Subscribers, the original membership structure. Paddy Harvey informed the meeting that the Trustees do intend to have Subscribers, the detail of which was discussed later in the meeting. He then introduced Michael Miller and Trevor Llanwarne.

Michael Miller gave a most interesting and thorough presentation of the work undertaken in the Gallery recently. He welcomed two new members to the Board of Trustees, Trevor Llanwarne and Kate Van der Pump, who will be advising on education, marketing and PR. He went on to talk about the ethos of the gallery and the fascinating archive of letters and documents concerning the gallery’s history and the now famous artists who started their careers by exhibiting there. He referred to the importance of displaying and selling the best of contemporary art, which supports the permanent collection and the building and staff salaries. Towards the end of his presentation, he paid tribute to the work of all the staff and particularly that of Jane Fenn, the Gallery Director, who has worked so hard to make an artistic and financial success of the selling space.

Rye Art Gallery

Referring to the need for all the changes, he acknowledged the work of the Stormont volunteers and expressed his regret that the use of the gallery 4 space for selling exhibitions and the revised volunteer arrangements did not work out. He personally apologised for communications not being as they should and paid tribute and thanks to the work of the volunteers.

Reference was then made to the ending of the Friends. He acknowledged and thanked Paddy and Gill Harvey for all their work and close involvement with the gallery, and the help the Friends had always given, with the conservation work and the financial contributions that had been made. Lyn Arlotte’s time and effort in developing a range of cards of the permanent collection and the subsequent sale in other galleries, was mentioned.

He emphasised the importance of the gallery as a public benefit, making available helpful information on the Trust finances that audience members had not seen before.  In short, the Gallery’s financial future was dependent on the building up of sufficient reserves for the future. Concluding, he hoped to see Rye Art Gallery have an amazing future with a permanent collection and as an outlet for high quality contemporary art.

Trevor Llanwarne then spoke. He talked of why he had decided to become a Trustee and his enjoyment of the Gallery. He then turned to the importance of the sustainability of the Trust and its dependence on cash flow. He went on to thank the previous Trustees and noted the real importance of the building and design work that went into the two galleries, the ground floor street level selling space and the Stormont permanent collection galleries, accessed through Ockman Street, being made one entity, suggesting the importance of this could not be underestimated and in all likelihood could not have been done now.

The Gallery does need some refurbishment and a bigger range of products, he said. The McKechnie gallery, upstairs where the permanent collection is housed, particularly needs a full refurbishment and this is acknowledged by the Trustees.

The Subscriber option is being seriously considered, meaning there would be a Subscriber Trustee and a meeting of Subscribers held every autumn. However, if this is to happen, there need to be benefits for the Subscribers and so a consultation will be held on this. Discussion about the possible level of the fee and the position of Life members was raised. Mike Eve asked whether the Trust intended to move towards becoming a member-led charity, one where the trustees would be answerable to the local community. Trevor Llanwarne replied that this would represent a major change in the constitution of the Trust and was not under consideration.

Consultations would take place during the year 2017/ 2018, he continued, with the wider community, about strategy for the long term and with the Charities Commission regarding the future direction of the Trust and on bringing its constitution up to date. He emphasised the need for a solid platform for the future and a willingness to give and take on all sides.

Anthony Kimber, formerly Chairman of the Trustees, spoke from the floor and responded positively to these remarks, saying it had been a valuable session, and wishing the Trustees well in the future. He expressed concern that Rye Art Gallery’s provisional accreditation under the national Arts Council Museums and Galleries Scheme runs out in May. He  pointed out the value of such accreditation, as the key to other grants. One of the requirements for full accreditation was improved public access to the permanent collection. However, Dr Fanny Baldwin, a trustee, referred to recent conversations with the Arts Council and the advice received that grant eligibility should not be the reason for pursuing accreditation

Trevor Llawarne responded by saying that it has been decided that accreditation will cease for a year or so as the trustees can then work out what is best for the Gallery and local community. It needs to be applied for firstly because of the permanent collection, with Dr Fanny Baldwin stressing the relevance of contemporary art in supporting the permanent collection. She pointed out the links that Howard and Mary Stormont had with the Rye Society of Artists, at present exhibiting in the Gallery.

Anthony Kimber and other audience members urged strongly that the residual FRAG funds be put towards the installation of a lift, for which some provision had been made in the re-modelling of the gallery under his chairmanship. At this point, the meeting came to its final item, the use of the monies for the benefit of the gallery. A number of suggestions were made again, the access by stair lift or through floor lift to the top floor and McKechnie Room refurbishment being the favoured options. The final idea, voted in following a suggestion from the floor, was that the £9,000 should be ring fenced for McKechnie Room improvements in the future.

The meeting closed with a vote of thanks proposed by Kenneth Bird for Paddy and Gill Harvey. This was supported enthusiastically by the members of the audience. They had expressed their sadness at the closure of the Friends throughout the meeting, and looked forward to new ways of working with the Trustees in the future.

Photos: Kenneth Bird

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1 COMMENT

  1. What a shame and a sad conclusion to all the sterling work carried out by the “friends”.
    Obviously something not quite right on the Trustees side.
    Let’s hope the RAG continues at 100% without those hard working friends.

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