Gallery trustees plan changes

Friends of Rye Art Gallery meeting for lunch last year may be asked to become subscribers

Relations between the Friends of Rye Art Gallery (FRAG) and the gallery’s Trustees were clearly not good when FRAG met nearly a year ago to elect a new committee. On the one hand FRAG chairman Paddy Harvey said he had approached the Trustees about FRAG’s role and had no response.

On the other, the Trustees chair Michael Miller said, after the meeting, that he intended to invite all the members of FRAG to meet the Trustees. And a former chair of the gallery Colonel Anthony Kimber also expressed concern that some of the gallery’s functions’ such as education and workshops, would fall by the wayside, if FRAG were to fold.

However, relations appeared not to have improved when a further meeting was held by FRAG last December and a letter from Michael Miller was circulated. Davida Smith offered to arrange a meeting with the Trustees to find a way forward, and Colonel Kimber commented that many fences needed to be mended.

Now a further letter from Michael Miller has been circulated, and Kenneth Bird presents his view of what it says. That view does not necessarily seem to be entirely shared by FRAG Treasurer Heidi Foster (writing below), and FRAG will discuss Miller’s letter and the way forward at its annual meeting in March.

Kenneth Bird writes: 
A meeting of supporters of the Rye Art Gallery called by Paddy Harvey, acting Chairman of the Friends of Rye Art Gallery (FRAG), for Wednesday February 22 has been cancelled.

This follows receipt of a letter from Michael Miller, chair of the trustees, which addresses many of the concerns raised by FRAG members. In a positive and conciliatory tone, he recognises the supportive role played over many years by FRAG both in raising funds and in fulfilling the educational objectives underpinning the Trust.

Explaining the trustees’ current thinking, he states: “Circumstances have substantially changed with FRAG apparently having become dormant. As a result, although their role was subsumed by FRAG many years ago, the idea of reviving the category of Subscriber is now under serious consideration by the Trustees.

“Later this year, we expect to be in a position to re-open the category of Subscriber to our supporters, and to offer them a direct personal link to the Trust. It is hoped that this will again lead to the appointment of a Subscriber Trustee, who might well play an important role in membership liaison and activities.

“As already noted, this requires consultation with and approval by the Charity Commission. In addition we will wish to consult with the Rye community.

He continued: “After a major building initiative such as that over the early part of this century, it is natural, and invariably the case, that attention then has had to focus on getting the financials back into a “business as usual” basis and this must continue until our reserves improve substantially.

“But with our recent work, we are on a good track, we can see light at the end of the tunnel, and want to work with the community to deliver all our objectives on a sustainable basis going forwards.”

The Trustees announced that Trevor Llanwarne has agreed to join the Board of Trustees and his formal appointment will be made later this month. Trevor and his wife, who has been a member of the Friends for some time, will shortly be moving to Rye.

Until his retirement in 2014, Trevor was the Government Actuary for six years, having been a partner with PcW (PricewaterhouseCoopers) before that. The trustees say his experience will be invaluable to them as they move forward to the next phase of the Trust’s development.”

Heidi Foster writes: Having been treasurer of FRAG for several years, I would like to make a few observations concerning the above article. For more than a year, the Friends have been trying to “have a direct personal link with the Trust” (as Michael Miller says above he would want with the new Subscriber Trustee) at the Art Gallery without success.

After the Friend Trustee, the mediator between FRAG and the Trustees, resigned from the Trust, it meant we lost that connection. The Trust could have suggested another Trustee, or a member of the Friends committee, take over that role, but this did not happen.

When it became clear that we could not replace the FRAG chair and secretary (as they had done the years stipulated in the constitution) and they did most of the events planning, newsletter and membership, we asked for a meeting with the Trustees which did happen. There it was made clear to the FRAG committee that the Trustees felt FRAG were not needed any more.

This upset the committee members, after having worked hard to help generate income for the Gallery over several years, and they all resigned. Now the FRAG chair, secretary and myself (treasurer) are holding the fort until the matter is resolved at the next FRAG AGM.

What I do agree with is that we must stop the blame culture and, things having come to this state of affairs, we should look forward to how best to support the gallery in whatever form this might take, as we all want the success that gallery director Jane Fenn has achieved in her years in charge to continue.


Photo: Rye News library


  1. From 2004 to 2011 I led the concerted effort by all interested parties to create the “one improved gallery” to allow an expansion of Rye Art Gallery (RAG) and subsequent “business development”. Visitors can see the result today. As a student of the twists and turns on the RAG Charity since its inception in October 1957, I would not attempt to explain the evolution of the structure here but we are where we are and there are some aspects, which are indisputable. The RAG Charity has a “governing document, which is the “Trust Deed” left by the Founder, Mary Stormont. This, supported by the recent Charities Commission Acts, directs the way that the Board functions. The Board is empowered to do many things in the interest of the Charity but not to fundamentally change the document itself, which is explicit about: the composition of the Board, the key aims and objects of the RAG; its status; the fact that there are so called “subscribers” (The Charities Commission would now describe as “members”). A separate Friends charity was formed in the 1960s and subsumed the role of the “subscribers or members” of Rye Art Gallery. Ever since then, RAG and the Friends have been inextricably linked through common purpose and interest. In 2005, at a joint RAG and Friends’ AGM, there was consensus to continue the mutually beneficial arrangement whereby the two Charities see the “Friends” as “subscribers” or “members” of RAG. Despite the fragility of the Friends during the last year, they will meet again at AGM in March. Some may undervalue their efforts but I do not, as in my time not only did the Friends fulfill three of the four objects of the RAG governing document – especially the arrangement of numerous community activities for public benefit – they also raised tens of thousands of pounds towards support for the RAG’s own Art Collection and of course the “one gallery” project. The Charities Commission is clear that where there are members, it is a board responsibility to nurture them. If nothing else, this would involve facilitating effective communication between each side. Up until recent years, without it we would not have achieved what we did for “public benefit”. This last point is underscored because the Commission demands that charities operate strictly for public benefit and “not to give rise to more than incidental personal benefit”. In this context, and having read recent letters from the Board, RAG watchers may be tempted to ask questions about: the recent rebranding of Rye Art Gallery as “Rye Art” (a title covering commercial art sales from the past) which appears to indicate a new focus on art sales (indeed 5 of the 6 gallery spaces are set aside for this purpose); the way the board is formed and meets the requirements of the governing document; the way that existing members are handled; the arrangements for reasonable and safe access to all areas for the public. From experience, I know just how challenging this charity is to lead, but it remains an important Rye cultural centre. In my view, it is long overdue for the Board to communicate face to face with all interested parties about the future direction. This charity is not a private venture for some, for that would be a blatant “conflict of loyalty” to the Trust, but exists as Mary Stormont stipulated, for the “benefit of the public in Rye”.


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