Art gallery becomes unfriendly

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Rosemary Bagley presenting a bouquet to Gill Harvey

The Friends of Rye Art Gallery (FRAG) met in sombre mood on Sunday, March 20 as they listened in silence to hear chairman Paddy Harvey announce the mass standing down of his committee. He had served his four year term, he said, and, despite appeals through the Friends’ newsletter, no new blood had been forthcoming.

His colleagues were prepared however to reconstitute themselves as a “caretaker” committee to examine available options, first of which possibly was to seek an amalgamation with the main body of Rye Art Gallery trustees.

But his approach to the trustees had received no response to date, and closure of the Friends appeared imminent. He would however report back to a members’ meeting, perhaps in six months’ time, but meanwhile it would become a dormant society.

Colonel Anthony Kimber was the first to express dismay because, as past chairman of the Trust, he knew that certain of its constitutional functions such as workshops and educational lectures would fall by the wayside if FRAG were to fold.

Mike Eve thought that the Friends should have greater representation on the trustees’ board, noting that Andrew Ashton, the previous FRAG representative had resigned last year. Julian Luckett urged that the constitutions of both bodies be circulated to members and that their relationship be more clearly defined.

Michael Miller, chairman of trustees, said reasonably: “Until the outcome of this meeting is known, there is nothing we can do”.

He continued: “The trustees are essentially a working group with varying specialised skills. We have recently added to their number – Will Taylor, an engineer by training and a management consultant, and Kate Van der Pump, a retired school head from a family of jewellers.

“We are running a business with a turnover of £250,000, and are still seeking to appoint trustees with IT  and marketing skills.”

Kenneth Bird questioned why nominations to the committee had not been asked for at this meeting, whereupon John Izod and Rae Festing expressed their willingness to join the committee and were duly elected to the evident embarrassment of the chairman.

Lyn Arlotte then, at the chairman’s request, gave an account of a recent Friends’ group initiative to produce and publish art-cards and their sale to other galleries such as the Towner, Charleston and De La Warr. This had been a time-consuming voluntary effort which it was hoped would financially benefit the Gallery.

In any other business, the trustee/friends’ relationship was further examined. It was clear that the re-modelling of the gallery had changed the need for “invigilators”, so that volunteer Friends were now only required to cover weekends.

Col Kimber, without wishing to pursue recriminations, requested his objection be noted to certain remarks of the trustee’s chairman in his annual newsletter, which appeared to denigrate previous successful efforts to modernise the gallery.

Rosemary Bagley on behalf of the Friends thanked the committee for their efforts and presented a bouquet to Gill Harvey. The meeting then concluded, but without any clear assurance that the Friends of Rye Art Gallery would survive in its present form.

Following the meeting, Michael Miller said his intention was to invite, within the next month, all members of FRAG to meet the trustees. It was important that harmonious relations be re-established to carry the gallery forward on the basis of better mutual knowledge of each others’ roles.

Photo: Kenneth Bird

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