First disabled arts champ named

First disabled arts champ named

The arts producer and strategist Andrew Miller has been appointed the first champion for the disabled in arts and culture.

New reports show how Brexit will hit the arts

New reports show how Brexit will hit the arts

English cultural organisations stand to lose £40m a year with Brexit, with 64% oif them currently working inside the European Union. The report from EUCLID, commissioned by Arts Council England, shows that between 2007 and 2016 the EU contributed £345m to England’s arts, museums and creative industries, or £40m a year.

Boost for Banbury Museum expansion

Councillors have agreed plans to double the size of Banbury’s museum in a £5m expansion scheme.

Creative Scotland apology over funding row

Creative Scotland apology over funding row

Archer promises review of funding process

Books by the Ocean

Books by the Ocean

A ‘crazy’ notion to bring a literary festival to Sri Lanka has proved an astounding success. Patrick Kelly reports

Cultural kids' programme reaching out

Cultural kids' programme reaching out

An Arts Council programme devised to help young children from deprived areas through involvement in the arts is working, according to an evaluation report published today.

Call for arts support in Northern Ireland

Call for arts support in Northern Ireland

Arts sector representatives and tourist companies in Northern Ireland have called on politicians to recognise the important role the arts plays in the economy of the region.

Music venues survey shows third ‘under threat’

Music venues survey shows third ‘under threat’

But Scotland embraces ‘Agent of Change’ principle.

Hockney is critics' choice

Hockney is critics' choice

David Hockney is to receive the Critics’ Circle Award for 2017, only the second time a visual artist has been selected for the prestigious prize in the Circle’s 105-year history.

Photojournalism's art gallery

Photojournalism's art gallery

A new website at last gives Fleet Street’s photographers a showcase for their work as art. Simon Tait spoke to its founders, Fleet Street veterans Alan Sparrow and Bret Painter-Spanyol

Museums' collecting frozen by funding cuts

Museums' collecting frozen by funding cuts

Britain’s museums are being increasingly excluded from the art market by cuts in funding, stifling the acquisitions that are the life force for public collections.

Creative industries on track to create 1m local jobs - Nesta

The creative industries are driving the UK’s economic growth, expanding twice as fast as any other sector, according to new research by Nesta.

BAFTA/BFI set harassment zero-tolerance rules

BAFTA/BFI set harassment zero-tolerance rules

Film and television organisations led by BAFT and the BFI have set a series of principles and guidelines to deal with bullying and sexual harassment in the industry.

Tax deal takes early Freuds back to Lakes

Tax deal takes early Freuds back to Lakes

Two really portraits by Lucian Freud have been left to the nation in lieu of tax and allocated to the Abbott Hall Gallery in Kendal.

Mary Beard to front Front Row

Mary Beard to front Front Row

The classics professor Mary Beard is to anchor the revamped television version of the arts review magazine Front Row when it returns in the spring.

17c mystery painting still baffling experts

17c mystery painting still baffling experts

This large picture of 1665 by an anonymous artist is one of the great mysteries of the art world, and is the centerpiece of a forthcoming major Norwich Castle Museum exhibition.

London goes Underground

London goes Underground

Photographs of some faces and places associated with the capital go on display at five London Tube stations this week.

British Art Fair goes to the Saatchi

British Art Fair goes to the Saatchi

Celebrating its 30th birthday this year, the 20/21 British Art Fair has changed ownership and will move to the Saatchi Gallery.

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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