London’s culture zones named

London’s culture zones named

London mayor Sadiq Khan has announced the capital’s first Creative Enterprise Zones, funded to support artists, small creative enterprises and local people.

 Africa Centre’s £1.6m boost

Africa Centre’s £1.6m boost

The Africa Centre’s transplant from Covent Garden to Southwark has received a major boost with a £1.6m grant from the Mayor of London’s Good Growth Fund, while the Black Cultural Archive has been saved from possible closure by a government grant of £200,000.

TAITMAIL     Singing to the stars

TAITMAIL Singing to the stars

It was like a Sunday afternoon at a Southern Gospel Chapel. Massed choirs on the stage jigging around and waving their arms about, the audience responding by standing and clapping their hands above their heads as they hooted their approval, impassioned young conductors urging both choir and audience on to still more frenzy. 

TALK OF THE TOWN HALL   But they persisted….

TALK OF THE TOWN HALL But they persisted….

Patrick Kelly on the arts champions on local authorities who have made cultural revolutions happen

Julie Finch to run Compton Verney

Julie Finch to run Compton Verney

The new director of Compton Verney Art Gallery in Warwickshire is to be Julie Finch, currently the Cheltenham Trust’s CEO.

Thanet council plans museum handover

Thanet council plans museum handover

Campaigners are calling on Thanet District Council to halt its plans to sell Margate Museum, with more than 100 people have signed a petition to keep the heritage building, once a police station, in public hands.

DEA BIRKETT   Paris – where the show never closed

DEA BIRKETT Paris – where the show never closed

In the first of a series marking the 250th anniversary of the circus, Dea Birkett– the official Ringmaster of Circus250 – goes to Paris where circus is defying the gilets jaunes

Outdated systems blocking creativity growth - CIF

Outdated systems blocking creativity growth - CIF

Growth in the creative industries is being stymied by government and policy bodies working by out-dated definitions, according to a report published today by the Cultural Industries Federation (CIF).

Pitzhanger to re-open after £12m restoration

Pitzhanger to re-open after £12m restoration

Pitzhanger Manor, the dream country home created for himself and his family by Sir John Soane, in his time England’s most celebrated architect, is to reopen in March after major restoration.  

‘Purity’ of boys’ voices – it’s Garrett v Bach Choir

‘Purity’ of boys’ voices – it’s Garrett v Bach Choir

Opera soprano Lesley Garrett’s call for an end to male-only choirs has been rebuffed by the head of one of the leading ensembles in the world, the Bach Choir.

New CEO for FACT

New CEO for FACT

FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) chooses Arts Catalyst's Nicola Triscott and new CEO

DEA BIRKETT Fifteen years ago, a museum visit changed my life

DEA BIRKETT Fifteen years ago, a museum visit changed my life

Last week we reported on the reopening of the V&A’s Cast Courts. Here, Dea Birkett recounts her own especial memory of them

Friends buy Burnley Empire for £1

Friends buy Burnley Empire for £1

The Victorian Burnley Empire has been saved by a friends group, days before it was due to go for auction.

Fitzwilliam’s gift of the Great Belzoni

Fitzwilliam’s gift of the Great Belzoni

The larger than life archaeologist, explorer and circus strong man known as the Great Belzoni is to adorn Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum.

The smartphone Turner Prize

The smartphone Turner Prize

Charlotte Prodger has won this year’s Turner Prize for visual art with a 32-minute film shot on her smartphone.

Rogers to leave Birmingham REP

Rogers to leave Birmingham REP

Executive director steps down after 17 years

To all Dome-loving humans…

To all Dome-loving humans…

David Shrigley has created this limited edition print with proceeds from sales going towards the Build Brighton Dome community appeal.

How WWI enriched contemporary art

How WWI enriched contemporary art

More than 35m people, half the population, have engaged with the 14-18 NOW commemorations of the First World War, which has now ended after five years.

Ally Pally theatre reopens after 80 years

Ally Pally theatre reopens after 80 years

Alexandra Palace’s theatre and East Court reopened at the weekend after a £27m, three-year restoration project.

What's up in… Bristol

What's up in… Bristol

AI looks at what's coming up around the country – this week, the arts in Bristol. 

Bid to save Turner’s Thames view

Bid to save Turner’s Thames view

The government has mounted a campaign to save J M W Turner’s painting Walton Bridgesfor the nation by placing an export stop on it.

Victorian art world – recast by the V&A

Victorian art world – recast by the V&A

The Cast Courts at the V&A, two of the museum’s original 1850s galleries, have reopened after a seven year programme, restored and refurbished as they were 160 years ago.

Brexit: May's deal and the arts

Brexit: May's deal and the arts

The Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement still leaves the arts and cultural industries in doubt about the future.

Rhian Harris takes over in Lakes

Rhian Harris takes over in Lakes

Rhian Harris, director of the V&A Museum of Childhood since 2008, is to be the new chief executive of Lakeland Arts.

GALLERIES Raising the roof

Leeds Art Gallery’s £4 million revamp has revealed a long lost roof, and the level of the city’s ambitions. Patrick Kelly reports

[Caption: Sarah Brown, principal curator, beneath th transforming rediscovered skylight]

Enter the first room of Leeds Art Gallery, opened again this month after an 18 month revamp, and you might feel you have been propelled back into the past, rather than invited to view the future. 

The walls are covered, top to toe, in paintings of burning shipwrecks, charging cavalrymen and classical myths. The floor is peppered with busts of long dead captains of industry sporting the long locks and sculpted beards beloved of the male bourgeoisie of the 19th century. It’s as if we had stepped back to 1888, the year the gallery first opened its doors.

And that’s the intention. The busts are of the gallery’s benefactors and the displays come from the early collection; the effect is a loving recreation of what Victorian Leeds would have expected of its  very own municipal art gallery, and while it’s easy to pick holes in the Victoriana, the message for today is very clear. Those Victorian bigwigs took a pride in their city and in its ability to build and furnish a gallery devoted to the best examples of the art and culture of the era – and the city still does so today.

Leeds City Council has spent £4 million on the restoration of the gallery, the vast majority of that sum coming from its own funds. Much of the cash has gone on behind-the-scenes repairs to the fabric of the 130-year-old building, unglamorous work like fixing the roof, removing dry rot and asbestos and replacing antiquated electrics.

“The council didn’t baulk at the cost” says  John Roles, head of museums and galleries. “It has always shown a commitment to culture and the fact that the leader of the council retains portfolio for culture is a demonstration of that commitment. We have even been allowed to replace curatorial posts, something which other councils have not done.” 

He added that the city’s museums and galleries have always been able to show that they bring in substantial external funding – Leeds has the third largest NPO grant in the sector in the country.

The council has invested in a number of refurbishments of the venerable institution on the Headrow many times, he added, “but this is first to look at whole building on a major scale. Its a massive undertaking to redo every room in the building”.

But pride of place must go to the restoration the central gallery core with its barrel-shaped glazed roof, an unexpected surprise revealed to workers removing a false ceiling which had  obscured the skylight of the original structure in a 1960s attempt to create a “white cube” effect. The discovery, while welcome, did mean another six months added on to the project.

It also means that they had a gallery which would do justice to Alison Wilding’s magnificent Arena, a gift from the artist to the gallery. The complete rehang also means that there is an opportunity to display sculptural works throughout the gallery, says curator Sarah Brown, and give due prominence to the city’s collection of 20th century modern sculpture which, taken with the Henry Moore Institute next door,  is recognised as the strongest collection of British sculpture in UK.

The reopened gallery also features a major exhibition of work by Joseph Beuys, an artist who“totally transformed the language of sculpture” and to devote space to John Sell Cotman’s exquisitely detailed sketches of Yorkshire life. Other highlights include an entire wall of top class portraits by various artists, and Tony Cragg’s vast Union flag and works by Frank Brangwyn, Diego Rivera and local artist Jacob Kramer.

Explaining the philosophy of the rehang, Brown added, “We are now much more comfortable with the idea of putting contemporary art next to Victorian ornamentation, and we think it’s right to respect the history of important civic buildings. It’s a question of what do we value in society?  Culture and art is such an important part of our development as a city. Even in Victorian times, the gallery’s founders were interested in buying art of their time, from Europe as well as Britain. That European angle is still important today”.

It’s also an important part of the city’s bid to bag the European Capital of Culture title for 2023. Leeds City Council leader  Judith Blake said of the art gallery: “It has one of the most significant collections of art in the country. To be able to show it in the refurbished art gallery is very special indeed. Now that we are moving full steam ahead with our 2023 European Capital of Culture bid, it is brilliant to see the return of Leeds Art Gallery which, internationally recognised and celebrated, will offer another timely reminder of why our bid is so varied and strong”.


A trawl through the local media reveals that Leeds residents are glad to have their gallery back and that it was much missed while it was closed, despite  a programme of loans to other institutions over the last 18 months. But Roles is wary of sticking to a target for visitors to the revamped gallery. “I think we will be pleased just to maintain numbers that we have seen over the last few years, which varied between between 440-520,000” he says.

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