R.A.G. Chairman looks forward

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The Rye Art Gallery, an important part of the High Street

As Chairman of the Rye Art Gallery Trust, I write on behalf of all the Trustees, as a follow-up to the article last week entitled “Gallery trustees plan changes and the various comments from Kenneth Bird, Heidi Foster and Dr Anthony Kimber

First, it is pleasing to see the interest being shown in the future success and sustainability of the Trust and the Gallery itself. I would agree with much of what is said in the article. In particular I would like to emphasise that we have always recognised the need for supporters and have valued them. Nothing was sadder for me personally than to see that the Friends of Rye Art Gallery were unable to assemble a committee after more than 40 years since they were first instituted

I think readers might find it helpful if I expand a little on what we are planning.

Michael Miller with Rye MP Amber Rudd

However and firstly, I do need to put the record straight in one respect. Last week’s commentary contained a number of statements, including some about the recent past, many of which, in truth, we do not recognise. Nonetheless, rather than responding to the remarks, I will follow the spirit of Heidi’s comments where she states: “We should look forward to how best to support the gallery in whatever form this might take, as we all want the success that the Gallery Director, Jane Fenn, has achieved in her years in charge to continue.” We agree wholeheartedly with this and so I will say nothing further so that we can move on

Our thoughts regarding the future are set out in a letter dated February 8 that I sent to Paddy Harvey, the acting Chairman of the Friends which has been posted on the Rye Art Gallery website. This letter will also be available in the Gallery. Some of the paragraphs in my letter can be recognised from the main article in last week’s Rye News but there is a lot more in the letter that I hope readers will find of interest.

Specifically, we intend to consult and communicate with the Rye community about our plans on how best to deliver the Trust’s objectives given our current circumstances. We can and should deliver no more and no less. It is after all your Gallery. We expect to be in a position to have a document ready in the summer for public consultation with a view to taking decisions in the autumn.

Our immediate next step is a letter I shall be writing to the Friends in the next couple of weeks offering with my colleagues to attend their AGM. To the best of our ability, in advance of having worked up our consultation document, we would offer to answer questions which we hope will assist the Friends in their own deliberations in deciding how they wish to proceed. In due course we aim to issue a newsletter to the wider Rye community informing them of our plans.

Before concluding, I would like to reiterate some of the messages referred to in my letter. With the combined efforts of the Trustees, Friends, visitors and the artistic community, we are slowly moving towards our goal of securing its long-term financial survival. At the moment this can only be achieved by the Gallery operating a successful and profitable outlet for high-quality contemporary art where for more than 50 years we have always had the highest reputation. This has meant the Trustees have had to take some very difficult strategic decisions which are beginning to show positive results.

Throughout, we are always aware of the responsibilities placed upon us by the Trust Deed and the need to protect the Stormont legacy. In this respect, nothing has given me greater satisfaction than to establish the Stormont Awards for young artists up to the age of 16 which we will be rolling out to local schools with the support of the Rye Community Shop later this year. This will not only inspire the artists of tomorrow but also ensure the name of our founders continues to be closely associated with the promotion of the arts in Rye.

The past few years have been very demanding ones for the Trustees, all of whom are volunteers, who have had to spend considerable time working through all that has had to be done to preserve this great Gallery. I do urge you all to have a look at the appendix to my letter which details many of the exciting things we have been doing during the past year.

However, whilst we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel, much still needs to be done with the support of all those who cherish this amazing and unique part of Rye’s heritage. I hope that as many as possible will be able to help us in this effort and also share in the activities we will be having at the Gallery.

Photos: Rye News Library

2 COMMENTS

  1. I am fascinated by the various views being expressed about the future of Rye Art Gallery, and the Chairman seems to be always optimistic. However, I am rather sceptical when the words “we must move on” are used, together with “lessons have been or will be learnt”. It so often means “please forget what has been said and done” and “we will carry on as before”.
    I first got a glimpse into the problems of the Gallery when the then Chairman was proposing to sell the Stormont to fund the gallery’s continuance. There was widespread concern about this and at a very acrimonious meeting it became clear to me that there were a large number of people who had no interest in the amazing permanent collection: the Gallery’s jewel. What mattered was the sales area, which had been losing money for years and draining resources. Anthony really rescued the Gallery, arranged grants etc to get the two buildings linked and ensured the proper storage of the Collection, which until then had been in the basement.
    Suddenly, after Paddy and Gill Harvey and other FRAG committee members had continued the work and development of the Friends, no-one was willing to take over and a few had left, for various ostensible reasons. Why was this? At the last AGM of the Friends I was saddened by the fact that the Chairman of the Trustees and another Trustee, sat at the back of the meeting, and muttered and commented on matters, after having been offered the chance to speak and report and had declined to do so. Again I ask why? Before, the Chairman always addressed the friends and took questions. I believe several opportunities have been given for Trustees to speak, debate and state their case directly to the Friends, but none have been available. The proposed scheme to re-institute the old caretaker’s flat, so that it can be let and rental income obtained, thus returning the Collection to the cellars, seems to have been abandoned: some progress on that front at least.
    The Trust cannot be changed, but attitudes can. I believe before “we can move on” the “lesson that must be learnt” is that writing statements is no substitute for coming and speaking and debating. Paddy Harvey’s comments on volunteers is so true and essential for any organisation that relies on volunteers. For both Paddy and Gill Harvey to be put in the position they are in, and knowing just how much they want a smooth succession to lead to a thriving Gallery, gives an indication that all is not well with the Trustees. Rye Art Gallery is more than a selling gallery, it has a wonderful Collection which needs exhibiting and curating and given prominence within the Gallery.
    At the AGM, I very much hope the Trustees will be there and perhaps “learn the lesson” that they need a role for the Friends, because without it they and the Gallery will fail in their duty.

  2. After many years of supporting and being interested in Rye Art Gallery I am rather shocked and dismayed that the Trustees, a small group, appear to intend to deprive the members of the Friends of Rye Art Gallery, a not very
    inconsiderable number of people, of being involved in supporting the Gallery.
    The Friends have not only enjoyed participating in the success of the
    Gallery but have been able to enhance their knowledge through lectures,
    social events,stewarding and outings to other local galleries.
    The various communications,if they can be dignified in such a way, that seem to come from certain people, including I have heard from Trustees,seem not to have the interest of the Gallery at heart but themselves.
    I ask the the Trustees to reconsider their attitude to the Friends,as a support,and more so their behaviour.
    Having spent a successful career dealing with many contentious problems I have never had to experience the lack of professionalism that pervades your dealings.
    The Friends of Rye Gallery are our representatives and we wish them to be respected.

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