Archive for ‘museums and galleries’

August 6, 2015

on the financial accessibility of culture

Well, there’s a mouthful of a subject-header. I was going to write a couple of short reviews of some exhibitions I’d seen recently, but I’ve been thinking about this subject for a while, and that’s what I ended up writing about, instead.

———————————————————————————————————————-

People always talk about how awesome the web is for democratising culture, and it is. It’s great that it’s so easy to gain access to the cultural resources available in places people may otherwise be unable to visit (e.g museums in other countries). It’s brilliant that you can find a free tutorial for practically anything you wish to know about, or easily start up your own creative business. But sometimes you want to be able to look at a piece of art directly in front you — inspect how the paint was applied, or how the sculptor followed the grain of wood. Sometimes you want a hands-on demonstration from a skilled expert who is standing right next to you to explain how to improve what you are doing. You want to be able to feel the weight of the technical materials that real professionals use, the equipment you can only find in dedicated spaces, not in your kitchen drawer.

But those things are becoming harder to do, if you’re not wealthy enough to afford them. Experiencing creative culture (aka The Arts) is starting to feel like the domain of only those who can afford it. (Although I’m writing this from a visual arts perspective, obviously it includes things like music, cinema, theatre, etc.) While there are still a lot of free museums in London, cultural funding keeps getting cut, with museums and galleries having to consider charging for entry. Some have already started, and many smaller museums (especially those run by local authorities) have been forced to downsize or close completely. Corporate sponsorship of exhibitions has shrunk, which means the prices have increased. If you want to see any of the major exhibitions this summer, you’re looking at putting down at least the better part of £15 before they let you in the door — and that’s often the concession rate for people on a low income. People like me.

Educational institutions are having their funding cut, too. The college where I take my classes has had so much funding cut that they can no longer offer concession rates for many classes, meaning classes are only available to those who can pay the full rates. But they’re daytime classes during the week, when most of the people who might have enough disposable income to afford paying £200 for a course will be at work. People who have the time to take a midweek daytime course are often the very people who can’t afford to do it unless it’s subsidised — the unemployed, OAPs, people like me with longterm health conditions. So the inevitable knock-on effect is that because people can’t afford to pay full price for a class, not enough people will sign up, and the college will have to cut it from the prospectus due to perceived lack of demand, leaving the teachers out of work. Meanwhile the few classes left that still have concession rates are likely to become oversubscribed due to high demand, because many of the people from the classes which had their concession rates cancelled will migrate to the classes that they can still afford.

I count myself lucky — the printmaking class I was taking was the only print class that didn’t have its concession rates cut, so I can still afford to do it, and I managed to get a place, despite worries that it would already be full of all the other students migrating from the classes that no longer offer concessions. I’d been hoping to do two printmaking classes a week but obviously I had to rethink my options once I discovered there were no more concession rates for other classes. But again, I count myself lucky, because I managed to find a course at a different college that still offers concession rates on courses, albeit for a bit more money than my usual college.

The reason I count myself lucky is because, while I was looking into an alternative place to study, I discovered that a number of other colleges (including ones I’ve studied at in the past) no longer offer concession rates at all, meaning that in those places education is now only for those who have enough disposable income to use them. Meaning wealthy people, which means the classes will be the domain of people who are socially very much alike. One of the great things about colleges being able to subsidise courses and offer concession rates is that the classes were a wonderful social mix as a result, full of people who otherwise would never have an opportunity to rub shoulders, which meant that people learned more than just the subject they were all there to study. And if you notice I’m talking about it in the past tense, it’s because it’s much less likely to happen if all the people attending a class are of the same basic demographic.

It makes me so, so sad that this is happening to this country, because we have such a long history of adult education in Britain, and of having a wide variety of interesting subjects that were always made affordable for everyone and not just rich people. (There’s a very brief but interesting article on this history of adult education here).

All of this has a knock-on effect to the cultural psyche of a country (yeah, I know that’s a pretentious way of describing it, but I can’t think of a better one at the moment). Institutions can (literally) no longer afford to take risks, whether it’s a museum planning the next exhibition or a college planning next year’s prospectus. The knock-on effect is that this country’s cultural output gets blander and blander (how else do you explain the ever-increasing popularity of photorealism, which is the visual equivalent of those professional session musicians who can play everything pitch-perfect every time, and are utterly soulless and banal as a result?)

People talk about the Tory government and their return to Victorian values, but at least during the Victorian era there were philanthropists building institutions for the edification and education of the masses of people who would otherwise not be able to afford to see or create beautiful and inspiring works of art. All that we get these days are more cuts, and more closed doors. Yes, of course, there was always creative work happening in the past before the philanthropists stuck their oars in (so to speak), and lots of people were creating things at home, but craft skills were handed down throughout families (the very skills we now scour the internet for tutorials on, because they’re no longer passed on by family members), and those works were rarely displayed outside the home. Now we have the opportunity to display work on the internet, and find a like-minded community and that’s brilliant, but it’s not like seeing the texture of the paint, or feeling the weight of the press, for yourself.

The internet is great, but sometimes it’s not enough. Having to rely on it for your cultural education and experience is probably a scary thought for a lot of people, but it’s starting to feel as though it soon might be the only option some of us have.

Advertisements
May 3, 2015

May Day in Greenwich

On Friday, I donned my flowery skirt and went down to Greenwich to enjoy some May Day celebrations.

I met up with a friend at Surrey Quays station, and we got the bus to Greenwich. I spotted this lovely bird mural on the way to the bus stop, does anyone know who painted it?

mural in Surrey Quays // a raised bridge

While we were on the bus, we had to stop for the road over Deptford Creek to raise, which was a surprise to me as I had no idea the road did that!

Once we were in Greenwich we took a wander through the Old Royal Naval College. Sounds from a music class spilled from an open window, and we stopped to admire the spectacle of the Painted Hall.

Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

We wandered along towards the old Edwardian power station down by the river, past the Trinity Hospital Almshouses, and around the old wall with the story embedded into it. (We were curious about the purpose of that little hexagonal tower at the back of the power station, with the little windows at the top, any ideas what it was for?).

Greenwich Power Station

At the Star & Garter we stopped for a drink, and waited for the revellers from the Jack in the Green parade. It’s one of the few unspoiled pubs in that area, with wooden beams, a dartboard, racing on the telly and a brassy blonde barmaid who calls you “luv”. Just my kind of pub.

Jack in the Green at the Star & Garter

Jack in the Green at the Star & Garter

When the parade arrived we went outside where one of the revellers was telling a tall tale of the Leviathan which seemed to involve a lot of roaring. We hung around enjoying the sunshine and admiring the costumes, before setting off along our way again.

spring flowers and bright colours

We wandered towards Greenwich Park, where we stopped to admire the view from quiet One Tree Hill where we were more-or-less alone, and again outside the Observatory, which of course was full of tourists. We relaxed for a while inside the tiny Observatory Gardens, which always feels surprisingly secluded, despite being so close to where so many tourists congregate (and long may it stay that way!)

around Greenwich Park

We heard the drums from the Jack in the Green parade as we headed down through the park and side streets towards the Richard I pub, another stop on the parade route.

wisteria galore

We stopped here for a drink and some (overpriced) chips, and bitched about the refurbishment of what was formerly just a nice boozer rather than a posh gastropub with shabby chic pretensions.

Jack in the Green at the Richard I

By the time we’d finished our drinks, it was getting towards evening, so we walked over to Greenwich Station and headed homewards.

You can learn more about the Jack in the Green May Day traditions here and check out the Company of the Green Man‘s picture archive here.

April 19, 2015

Secret 7s

Last week I popped into Somerset House to see the Secret 7″ exhibition that’s on display until May 3rd.

Secret 7'' at Somerset House

Secret 7″ is an annual fundraising project that raises money for various different charities (this year is Nordoff Robbins music therapy). Each year they release seven 7″ singles, each one with a pressing of 100, with 700 individual covers designed by various creatives. The “secret” part is that none of the cover designs are officially credited until the records are sold at auction.

Secret 7'' at Somerset House

Some of the designs are completely random and it’s not obvious who’s designed them or which record the design is for.

Secret 7'' at Somerset House

Others are more immediately obvious. I’m pretty sure that’s a David Shrigley design in the middle of the selection above (although the others are pretty random; I just liked them). The ones below are all designs for Reflections by Diana Ross & The Supremes, which is one of the seven songs chosen this year.

Secret 7'' at Somerset House

With 700 different cover designs made in different media, including collage, sculpture, embroidery, crochet, and wood marquetry, as well as the more standard style of record cover design, there’s a great variety of creative design work on display, and the exhibition is worth a look if you’re in central London over the next couple of weeks.

But if you can’t make it, here’s another visual treat for you:

April 14, 2015

2 Temple Place

I have a special knack for making it to exhibitions just before they are due to close, or else just plain forgetting about them until the day after they’ve closed. (Although it’s probably not so much a knack as a lack of organisation which is the culprit…)

2 Temple Place was somewhere I had been wanting to see for a while, but it’s only open a couple of months each year and, what with one thing and another, I never got there, always missing it for another year… Until the Saturday just gone, when I finally made it, only a week before it closes again until January 2016.

2 Temple Place

The house is currently (until Sunday) playing host to a marvellous wunderkammer, and the rooms have been filled with curious artefacts collected by eminent Victorians, but in this post I’m going to focus on the incredible details in the house itself.

(I apologise in advance that the photos aren’t the greatest quality, but the house was dark, and I forgot to charge the battery of my proper camera, so I had to make do with using my phone.)

2 Temple Place

The house was originally called Astor House, and was built for the American William Waldorf Astor (politician, publisher, hotelier, faker of his own death — by all accounts an interesting fella). It’s a gothic fantasy, covered in carvings inside and out — and the perfect place for such an exhibition as is currently on display there.

inside 2 Temple Place: cotton in a vase / marble floor / stained glass roof / lanterns in a corridor

As I mentioned, there are carvings everywhere inside the house, but they’re a bit more unique than the usual stuff you see in these places, and many of them are charmimgly characterful.

inside 2 Temple Place: carved details

inside 2 Temple Place: carved details

inside 2 Temple Place: carved details

inside 2 Temple Place: carved details

Many of the carvings represent characters from some of Astor’s favourite books, including plays from Shakespeare, The Last of the Mohicans, Rip Van Winkle, The Scarlet Letter, and The Three Musketeers.

inside 2 Temple Place: carved figures on the staircase
carved figures from The Three Musketeers

There’s also some lovely stained glass, which throws pretty colours across the wood panelling whenever the sun shines through.

inside 2 Temple Place: stained glass

inside 2 Temple Place: stained glass

The attention to detail was even noticable in the ladies’ loo, which had a very grand door, and nice views out of the windows. There was a pipe that for some reason had been painted to match the grain on the wood-panelling, and I noticed that the pretty piece of vintage cotton on display under the mirrors was embroidered with golden thread.

inside 2 Temple Place

From Cotton To Gold is closed today (Tuesday) but open from tomorrow until this Sunday, the 16th. If you can’t make it (though I recommend you do), then you can read a pretty detailed account of the house here.

October 14, 2014

a ride on the Woolwich ferry

Last month my mum and me enjoyed a quintessential part of London’s history, and went on the Woolwich ferry. I meant to write about it sooner, but I forgot about it (oops) until I spotted a lovely Betty Swanwick poster on Quad Royal yesterday, and read this post on Londonist about the proposed Silvertown tunnel today, and then I remembered again.

We actually went to Greenwich for the Tall Ships Festival, but the riverfront was really crowded and we couldn’t really see much of the boats (and there weren’t that many to see right there). Instead of fighting through the exhausting crowds, we decided to visit the Queen’s House, have lunch in Greenwich Park and then go on to Woolwich to see the boats there.

The Queen’s House is actually one of my favourite free museums in London, never very crowded and always full of amazing art. The current exhibitions, The Art & Science of Exploration and War Artists At Sea are both recommended (and on until next year), but the permanent collection is wonderful, anyway. It’s a beautiful building, too, not just because of its famous Tulip staircase, but because it’s all so well-proportioned (we were impressed to notice how the edge of the upper balcony overlooking the Great Hall is perfectly aligned with the edges of the doorways).

In Woolwich, there were lots more boats, but it was less crowded and there were less tourists, more locals. We had as much fun people-watching as we did boat-watching, and decided that as we were there we’d go home via the Woolwich ferry.

Woolwich isn’t a part of London I have much reason to visit (although it has a very interesting history) and I’m not a driver so I don’t have much of an opinion on the new tunnel, but I’ve always loved the ferry. Or rather, I’ve always loved the idea of it, because — never really having had a reason to travel from one side of Woolwich to the other — I’ve only ever been on the ferry once before, but it’s kind of fun to do. I think it would be a sad thing if the ferry disappeared completely — I’ve always felt there ought to be more boats going across the Thames, not just up and down (the only other one I know about is Hammerton’s ferry near Richmond, which has also been on my list of things to do for ages).

The ride itself doesn’t take very long — less than 10 minutes, but as I said, it’s kind of fun to do.

waiting for the Woolwich Ferry, watching a tall ship go through the Thames Barrier
Waiting for the Woolwich Ferry, watching a tall ship go through the Thames Barrier — you can just see it in the middle, near the Canary Wharf skyline. The cranes and chimneys on the right belong to the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery in Silvertown, which used to be the largest sugar refinery in the world. It has an interesting history that you can read about here.

waiting for the Woolwich Ferry

boarding the Woolwich Ferry

aboard the Woolwich Ferry

aboard the Woolwich Ferry
Below decks there’s not much view of the river but then you find nice old stuff like this. Well, I like it!

aboard the Woolwich Ferry
There’s a tiny outside platform above these steps that everybody crams onto so that they can see the river.

aboard the Woolwich Ferry
I think they added the bunting for the Tall Ships Festival but they should keep it always! Bunting on boats is so jolly.

aboard the Woolwich Ferry
Looking back towards south Woolwich

exiting the Woolwich Ferry

north entrance to Woolwich foot tunnel
Entrance to Woolwich foot tunnel, which goes under the river where the ferry goes over it. That bus to Stratford takes the same amount of time as the DLR, but it’s less faff (I love the DLR though).

In a city that was built around a river, it’s always puzzled me how little access people really have to being on that river, without spending lots of money. The Woolwich free ferry remains one of the last few ways to do so that isn’t privatised and doesn’t cost lots of money. I hope it manages to stay that way.

October 1, 2014

the Isokon Gallery

NB: this is a very link-heavy post, but all the links are about interesting people and places, so they’re worth a bit of your time.

Over the past few months I’ve spent quite a lot of time just walking around the area I live in (I’m still trying to work out where the neighbourhood ends), and I keep coming across reminders and new discoveries about the interesting and often influential people who have also lived around here. It’s mind-boggling when you stop to think of how much interesting history has happened (and probably is happening) behind the walls of some buildings, if only they could tell their story.

the Isokon, London NW3

One building near me with a particularly fascinating history is the iconic modernist building the Isokon. Built 80 years ago by the architect Wells Coates in 1934, it was the first residential building in this country to be made out of reinforced concrete, and went on to house many influential and interesting residents (a number of whom I’ve listed at the bottom). It was originally called the Lawn Road Flats, so some people still use that name, but since that implies it’s the only block of flats in Lawn Road, and there are actually several others, I find it pretentious. It’s like calling a pub by its original name, even though you only started drinking there after it got a trendy new refit and a new name to match: you just wouldn’t. In any case, it’s been called the Isokon since 1972, so it’s actually been the Isokon for four years longer than it was ever Lawn Road Flats.

Originally privately owned by its creators, it was sold to New Statesman magazine, who later sold it to Camden council, who left it to rot. The building was eventually passed on to a housing association who renovated it about 10 years ago, and is now mostly filled with key workers.

Ever since being reminded that it had a history of interesting residents, I’ve been intending to write about some of them (as well as some of the other interesting people and events from around the area), a plan which has been made so much easier by the fact that there’s a gallery about the Isokon open at weekends, which is full of information and names to follow up on (at some point).

the Isokon, London NW3

The Isokon Gallery was put together with help from Magnus Englund (managing director of lovely homewares store Skandium), run with assistance from the National Trust. (He currently resides in the penthouse, which you can snoop around here.)

Although it’s only a small gallery, it’s surprisingly crammed full of information considering its small size. The list of former residents alone is really interesting, including as it does influential architects, artists, novelists, archaeologists, physicists, poets, photographers and spies. That’s not even counting all the other interesting people who would visit the in-house bar, the Isobar, some of whom lived close by (and who I also want to blog about at some point). You can only imagine some of the conversations that must have taken place there!

the Isokon, London NW3

It’s amazing how many fascinating and influential people made their home in this one single building (although obviously not all at the same time), including:

the building’s originators, Jack and Molly Pritchard

refugees from the Bauhaus, and associates:
Walter Gropius, former head of the Bauhaus
Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, artist and designer
Marcel Breuer, architect and industrial designer
Arthur Korn, architect
Naum Slutsky, goldsmith and industrial designer
Egon Riss, architect and industrial designer

other artists, architects and art critics:
Marshall Sisson, modernist architect
James Stirling, architect
Alan Colquhoun, architect and professor at Princeton
Kenneth Rowntree, painter
Diana Rowntree, architect and critic (the Guardian’s first architecture critic)
Rolf A Brandt, artist (brother of photographer Bill Brandt)
Jacqueline Groag, textile designer, and her husband Jaques, an architect
Adrian Stokes, art critic

spies and suspected spies:
Arnold Deutsch (the man who recruited Kim Philby and Guy Burgess)
Edith Tudor-Hart, photographer
Jurgen and Brigitte Kuczynski (their sister Ursula, aka Ruth was a highly decorated Soviet spy)
Charles Fenn (who recruited Ho Chi Minh into US intelligence)

writers, poets, historians and others:
Charles Madge, poet and co-founder of Mass-Observation
Agatha Christie, novelist
Max Mallowan, archaeologist (and Agatha Christie’s husband)
Stephen Glanville, archaeologist (who provided Christie with information about Egypt for her books)
Vere Gordon Childe, archaeologist
Nicholas Monsarrat, writer and sailor
Philip Harben, the world’s first TV celebrity chef
Montgomery Belgion, writer
Philip Sargant Florence, economist (whose other residence, Highfield in Birmingham seems to have been a cultural equivelent to the Isokon building)

All of those, just in the one building, and that’s not even all of them, but I hope to blog about some of them, and more about the building, in the future. (Also, in finding all these links to attach to the names, I just discovered that Wells Coates’ grandson is Matt Black from Coldcut. I did not know that.)

The Isokon Gallery is open every Saturday and Sunday until the end of October (although they hope to keep it open for longer), and it’s well worth a visit. You can tie it in with a visit to Erno Goldfinger‘s house at 2 Willow Road and make it a proper afternoon of modernist appreciation (I haven’t actually been to Willow Road for years, but I do recommend it).

More on the Isokon, and other buildings in the area, hopefully to come at some point. For more on similar buildings of the era, check out my post on Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion and Marine Court in Hastings, which I wrote about here.