RAGged relations again

Kitty French in the late 1970s - from a 2020 exhibition at Rye Art Gallery

The trustees of Rye Art Gallery appear to have  alienated yet another group (local artists) who should, one might have thought, be their friends, particularly after three years ago there was an apparent “falling out” with the charity, the Friends of Rye Art Gallery – and that is because of the recent sacking of long term director Jane Fenn and staff member Polly Horner to save money as a result of the lockdown closure of the gallery.

And local artists could be upset because my understanding of art galleries is that the gallery, and more particularly its staff, are immensely important to the artists who exhibit there. The staff need to be trusted to represent the artist, understand their work, make sales and handle the business efficiently – and many of the artists whose work is sold by the gallery are local.

And there is a belief that the staff were sacked not just to save money in a difficult situation, but because the Trustees want to manage the gallery themselves with volunteers as “staff” and, in the process, they have destroyed long term relationships that have been built up between local artists and the current staff.

I collect art in a random fashion, so random that I once bought a painting in St Ives in Cornwall on New Year’s Eve not thinking how I would get it back that night to my home in Camden Town in Central London. But (perhaps unsurprisingly) the train was virtually empty and the painting just fitted diagonally in a black cab at Paddington – but it was an uncertain moment.

And I learn a lot from gallery staff about the artists I am interested in, including from Rye Art Gallery nearly a decade back when I arrived here and there were more talks and (apparently) more exhibitions of the RAG’s own collection.

But the talks dropped off for quite a while, and the RAG’s collection seems to be restricted to their attic, so I am less clear why and how the gallery is for the benefit of the people of Rye – which is what I thought its role was supposed to be.

And I’m even less clear how these sackings benefit our local artists, and I understand some are seriously considering their future relations (if any) with the gallery – and this feels like a re-run of the events in 2017 – and I wonder about people who seem to know the price (or cost) of everything, but the value of nothing.

Image Credits: Heidi Foster .


  1. I’m sorry to see that an article has been written which is full of incorrect facts and incorrect rumours in what are truly extraordinary times for all of us who are desperately trying to do what we believe is best for artists, the community, the Friends and all who wish to “support the community in Rye and beyond”.

    For a variety of reasons, which I’m sure that readers will understand, all that I can say is “don’t believe everything you read in the press”. Much in the article is wrong. Instead do come along and visit at some time after the Gallery has reopened. This is planned to start from 18th July. The Gallery is working together with local artists and has planned an attractive exhibition. More information, no doubt, in a future edition of Rye News.

    Trevor Llanwarne, Chair, Rye Art Gallery Trust


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