£850m budget boost for museums and galleries

£850m budget boost for museums and galleries

Museums and heritage sites are expected to be given an extra £850m in tomorrow’s budget, with £300m earmarked for the likes of the V&A, Tate Liverpool and IWM Duxford to cover maintenance costs.

THE WORD	Elitism - design’s forgotten pandemic

THE WORD Elitism - design’s forgotten pandemic

As the cultural sector works at recovering from the effects of the coronavirus emergency, we urgently need to address exclusion and inequality. However, interior design is falling behind the rest of the creative industries, says Stella Gittins, co-founder and group director of The Accouter Group of Companies interior design consultants, which the government as well as the industry itself needs to address

Gentlemen’s club becomes contemporary art showcase

Gentlemen’s club becomes contemporary art showcase

Founded in 1862 the Naval and Military is one of London’s oldest gentlemen’s clubs. Now it is better known as the In & Out and you no longer have to be naval or military to be a member, nor a gentleman - almost 25% of the 3,000 members are women.

Haitink dies aged 92

Haitink dies aged 92

Bernard Haitink, the former music director of the Royal Opera House, has died at his home in London. He was 92.

TAITMAIL  Abstracting the Greenberg

TAITMAIL Abstracting the Greenberg

In the unlikeliest of settings, the courtyard of a St James’s gentleman’s club, the most keenly argued issue of contemporary art of the last 70 years is being tackled full on: is abstract art really abstract?

Collins gets new No 2 role at Opera North

Collins gets new No 2 role at Opera North

David Collins, Opera North’s director of external affairs since 2016, has been promoted to the new role of executive director, answering to the CEO Richard Mantle.

Sarah Hopwood to step down as Glyndebourne’s MD

Sarah Hopwood to step down as Glyndebourne’s MD

After almost 25 years at Glyndebourne Sarah Hopwood is to retire next year as managing director.

‘Platinum’ festival gets a name and a shape for the future

‘Platinum’ festival gets a name and a shape for the future

The national arts festival for 2022, seen as a new version of the 1951 Festival of Britain and variously nicknamed Platinum, in recognition of next year being the 70th year of the Queen’s reign, and Brexit in accord with the Prime Minister’s alleged wishes, has an official name: UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK.

£150k award for civic arts

£150k award for civic arts

Invitations for applications were opened today for the second Award for Civic Arts Organisations, with £100,000 to the winner and £25,000 each to two runners up.

MY STORY	Blood and wonder of the gipsy opera

MY STORY Blood and wonder of the gipsy opera

Carlo Rizzi, artistic director, Opera Rara

Opera Rara, the company that rediscovers, restores, records and performs lost operatic masterpieces, is reviving Ruggero Leoncavallo’s second most popular opera (after Pagliacci), Zingari, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Cadogan Hall in December. It will be conducted by Carlo Rizzi, the former music director of Welsh National Opera and Opera Rara’s artistic director since 2019.

Oldest astronomy map on show for the first time

Oldest astronomy map on show for the first time

 The 3,600 year old Nebra Sky Disc, the world’s oldest map of the stars, is to go on display in Britain for the first time next year.

Royal Docks to be London’s £5bn new cultural quarter

Royal Docks to be London’s £5bn new cultural quarter

The mayors of London and Newham have declared the Royal Docks a new cultural quarter for the capital that could generate £5bn in investment over the next 20 years, as a new festival, Royal Docks Originals, opens.

Lost Tiepolo drawing turns up in Sitwells’ attic

Lost Tiepolo drawing turns up in Sitwells’ attic

An exquisite drawing by Tiepolo, one of the masters of Venice’s 18th century golden age, has been found in an attic, covered in bubble-wrap.

Anne Seymour Damer: the forgotten ‘female genius’

Anne Seymour Damer: the forgotten ‘female genius’

Horace Walpole described the sculptor Anne Seymour Damer as “a female genius”, yet her work is barely known now, almost 200 years after her death.

Rail boost for regional theatres

Rail boost for regional theatres

A railway company has teamed up with a group of regional theatres to boost their audiences following the Covid emergency.

Tiny Alnwick museum is UK's most friendly

Tiny Alnwick museum is UK's most friendly

The tiny Bailffgate Museum & Gallery in Alnwick, Northumberland, is the winner of this year’s Family Friendly Museum Award.

Cornwall and Durham longlisted for City of Culture 2025

Cornwall and Durham longlisted for City of Culture 2025

The government has announced the eight cities and conurbations that will vie to be City of Culture 2025, in succession to Coventry this year.

GOOD PRACTICE GUIDE    Borough culture power versus Covid

GOOD PRACTICE GUIDE Borough culture power versus Covid

In 2019 Waltham Forest was the first of mayor Sadiq Khan’s London Boroughs of Culture. Lorna Lee, assistant director of culture at Waltham Forest Council, shows how the structure built then helped its communities through the pandemic

Ex-director quits Science Museum board over sponsorship

Ex-director quits Science Museum board over sponsorship

Chris Rapley, the former director of the Science Museum, has resigned from its advisory board in the escalating row over its sponsorship by Shell.

£1m to give the world new British films

£1m to give the world new British films

The UK Global Screen Fund is to give £1m to help 18 new productions to get international showings.

MIMA offers first curating apprenticeship degrees

MIMA offers first curating apprenticeship degrees

In a ground-breaking move for careers in museums and galleries Middlesbrough’s MIMA School of Art and Design is offering the UK’s first combined masters and higher degree apprenticeship (HAD) in curating.

New £2m fund to help museums make ‘miracles on a shoestring’

New £2m fund to help museums make ‘miracles on a shoestring’

Art Fund today announces the first round of a new £2m grant stream, Reimagine, to enable museums, galleries and historic houses to connect with their communities better.

THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM Image of the month

THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM Image of the month

Into the Twilight Zone, 6.45pm, 25th September 2018, by Roger Jackson

Alan Sparrow with an image of St Paul’s and the City a sunset

Museum of Childhood’s £13m transformation – to Young V&A

Museum of Childhood’s £13m transformation – to Young V&A

Work has begun on the £13m transformation of the V&A’s Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, East London. It is due to reopen in 2023.

AI PROFILE Making the difference

Tanika Gupta, playwright

Tanika Gupta is not just the leading British Asian playwright, multi-award-winning with more than 20 plays performed in her 25-year career. Nor is she merely a leading British woman playwright, though she is that too. What she almost certainly is is our most versatile writer for stage, screen and radio.

With a play about Gandhi about to open at the Lyric Hammersmith she is also working on scripts for BBC TV and ITV on which the wraps are still tight, and is in the second draft of her first sci-fi play for Radio 4.

As her talent dictates, her subjects vary enormously, but a frequent leitmotif has been her experience as a Briton whose parents are Indian immigrants and who is married to an Englishman, and so whose children are mixed race. It is a substantial section of the population largely unregarded by Britain’s cultural establishment.

Two of her plays, The Empress about Queen Victoria and her two Indian servants, and her adaptation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House which is shifted from Norway to 19th  century Calcutta with the heroine an Indian married to a white colonial bureaucrat, are now on the GCSE curriculum. By a coincidence, the academic asked to write the foreword to her work for the GCSE course knew her well: she had been Gupta’s English tutor at university.

“What I found really interesting” Gupta says “is that she talked about the fact that as a writer I had more knowledge about India than I did about Indians in this country because through my work I had rediscovered Indian history”. The subject was nowhere to be found at either school or university.

The fact that history appropriate to British Asians is not taught in our schools at all is one of the great lacunae in our education offer, she thinks, and is frustrated that the government recently turned down the opportunity to put it right. “We were never told anything about the fact that there were people from India in Britain in the 1840s, 50s and 60s (as depicted in the Empress), immigration is always talked about as if the first people to come to this country was the Windrush generation.

“I watched my kids going through school without any kind of wider historical perspective, and I think until that changes the bigger changes we need won’t happen” she says, in her firmly gentle way.

Tanika Gupta was born in 1963, a year after her university educated parents had arrived from Calcutta having found work, he on a building site, she as a tea lady at Reader’s Digest. Their names, Tapan and Garika, were quickly anglicised to John and Jill.

But he was a singer and she danced, to the work of Rabindranath Tagore, “the Indian Shakespeare”. They toured all over Europe with their group, The Tagoreans, and Tanika went with them watching bemused Austrians rubbing her mother’s arm to see if the colour would come off. She was always going to be a writer, her father told her, and at school she won plaudits for writing stories drawn from the Indian classics, like the Mahabarata, that her teachers knew nothing about. 

But she was aware of racism very early. “I remember e one of the kids in my class called me a wog so I told the teacher this and he said to me ‘Well, you are one really aren’t you?’”

She has never been angry about racism, she says, just sad. At Oxford she was one of two women from Asian backgrounds in her year - a year that included Boris Johnson, Keir Starmer and David Miliband – at a time of the miners’ strike, Greenham Common and Free Nelson Mandela marches; she fell into left-wing student politics and made lifelong friends. At Oxford she also met her husband, David Archer, ActionAid's head of programme development 

After university Gupta became a community worker, first in Manchester with a women’s refuge and then in London, while she began writing a novel in her spare time. She joined the Asian Women Writers’ Collective where she was told firmly her prose was average but her dialogue was good, and the novel was abandoned. It was through the collective that she learned about a radio play writing workshop the BBC was offering, and at 26 she joined and got her first play produced, Usher, about an Anglo-Indian woman looking back at her life.

“The BBC were encouraging black and Asian writers to train for radio, and I was the product of what they would now call ‘token gesturing’” she recalls. “But to me it was my launchpad”. She has now written more than 30 radio plays. “Thousands more people listen to radio plays than go to the theatre” - and many TV scripts including a storyline for EastEnders, and several for Grange Hill (from whose cast she learned that young people no longer refer to “snogging”; the word now is “lipsing”).

Her range is astonishing. She has adapted Ibsen but also Harold Brighouse’s Hobson’s Choice, E M Forster’s A Passage to India, the Scottish poet Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road, (“a very difficult novel to adapt”), and her close friend Meera Syal’s novel Anita and Me.

As well as an MBE she has won many prizes, but her favourite is the James Tait Black Award for Lions and Tigers, an exploration of the life of her great uncle, the anti-British Raj freedom fighter Dinesh Gupta, performed last year at Shakespeare’s Globe – where she found that dark faces onstage are not well served by the candlelight of the Sam Wanamaker Theatre. It had been written for the National Theatre in 2013 but rejected by Nicholas Hytner.

Out West is a trio of short plays commissioned by the Lyric Hammersmith about migrants in London from Gupta, Roy Williams and Simon Stephens. Overseas Student allowed Gupta to indulge her fascination for Mohandas Gandhi and is a monologue about his three years in London as a teenage law student in the 1880s.  “I was determined not to make it political, but he loved being here, he loved the English”.

Her discoveries were delightful, like that he got involved with the theosophists, a strange cult led by Annie Besant and Madame Blavatsky, “but I think he withdrew when they started communicating with the dead”; and it was two Jewish brothers who introduced him to the epic poem Bhagavad Gita, part of the Mahabarata – “so it took a pair of Jews to introduce Mahatma Gandhi to one of the key scriptures of Hinduism in an English translation, from which he quoted frequently throughout the rest of his life”. Overseas Student opens on June 18.

Gupta has also taught at drama schools for many years and has been dismayed at the predominance of white faces in the student bodies. At Royal Central, where she finished in January wearied by trying to lecture via Zoom, she was asked to write a play for the MA class and was confronted by 14 white faces – “so I wrote them an Irish play”.

“Our drama schools have got an awful lot of work to do on diversity, and I think theatres are too worried whether you have ‘permission’ to write certain things. If we worried about that we’d only ever write about our own cultures, and how boring would that be? 

Racism is still an enflamed pustule in society and Gupta believes efforts to eradicate it have taken reverse steps in recent times. She recently saw the Oscar winning Judas and the Black Messiah about the betrayal of the Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in 1969 – “and we’d actually just witnessed it happening all over again with George Floyd”. The Black Lives Matter movement is important in bringing the colonialism issue to the fore, and she welcomes the appearance now of several good young black playwrights. The flip side, though, is that British Asian playwrights will have to continue to wait their turn, she thinks but she’ll be patient.

“I go to the National a lot and see some amazing stuff there, but I wish they would just look again and broaden out the racial approach a bit. That doesn’t necessarily mean they everyone has to be black and Asian, but it does mean that we need a difference.”

During lockdown Gupta has been busier than ever, with ten or more pieces of work on the go. They include something for another old Oxford friend, Sean Foley, now running Birmingham Rep, for whom she is adapting another Ibsen, Hedda Gabler, written late in the 19th century.

“I’ve adapted it so it’s post-war, and I was fascinated to find that the actor Merle Oberon was actually Indian” she says, intriguingly. “I’ve tried to do a scripted version of those two concepts, and the only thing I’ve told Sean is that in the end she’s not going to shoot herself!”

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