Friday, March 24, 2006

Action by PS2 Gallery, Belfast

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Letter of Concern from Phil Collins, Artist, 16.03.06, Chicago

Dear Sirs,

My name is Phil Collins, I am an artist currently based in Glasgow. In 1998-2000 I was on the MFA at the School of Art and Design in Belfast and a director of Catalyst Arts during the same period. I am also one of the artists who participated in the recent Ormeau Baths Gallery exhibition 'Masters - Twenty Five Years On'.

Northern Ireland is fortunate to have world-class artists who have consistently, and against the odds, formed a vibrant, elaborated network which enjoys great support internationally, and that bodies such as Ormeau Baths Gallery, alongside Catalyst Arts and Factotum, have provided an invaluable platform where artists can exercise their profession in a dynamic, intelligent manner. The programming of Hugh Mulholland at Ormeau Baths Gallery and the Venice Biennial 2005 has consistently sought to represent Northern Irish artists at a national and international level, and provide a sensitive and intelligent platform whereby they are shown alongside their peers. In light of these facts, the closure of the Ormeau
Baths Gallery and the treatment of its staff is nothing short of a disgrace.

At first I wasn't sure I wanted to participate in 'Masters - Twenty Five Years On' but I did so because of my faith and trust in Hugh Mulholland and his curatorial expertise. I was delighted to have had an opportunity to work with him on many previous occasions and to show in the Ormeau Baths Gallery which I consider to have had a consistently high-standing international
program. It goes without saying that I would work with Hugh again at any time at the drop of a hat.

On this occasion, however, I'd like to make clear that in no way do I want my name or work associated with any further exhibition of this show and ask that my work is returned to me immediately. I am surprised that I have to remind you that the standard basic procedure for any exhibition is that the artist is consulted on such matters as to the nature of the exhibition, the venue and the work's installation. I would like to make it completely apparent that not once has anybody from ACNI nor the School for Art and Design made contact, which contravenes the basic standards of working practices and relationships. More importantly, the idea that a public body might remove the curator, who has executed the show, during its exhibition period and even consider continuing it, reveals a complete and utter lack of understanding not only of the nature of exhibition-making and care about the work, but also of the ethical and moral relationships on which the production and exhibition of art survives. I can only imagine what you're teaching the students.

If, as I understand, two members of the University's cultural development team are on the board of the ACNI and were thus privy to the information about its closure; this seems to me to represent the School for Art and Design in not only the worst kind of light, unable to stand beside the institutions around it which have gone out of their way to support the
school and its students, but lacking in the most basic forms of professionalism, backbone and decency. Therefore, I would like to express my strongest disagreement with the manner in which this whole disgraceful affair has been conducted, and in particular the University's shameful involvement in the closure of a contemporary art space by a hypocritical quango.

I am writing to you from the State, where I'm working on a project at the moment, and where I have been speaking to as many people as possible about what I consider to be a glaring failure in the practice of the administration of arts and cultural production. I look only to seek to support the protests against the removal of Hugh Mulholland and the staff of
the Ormeau Baths Gallery, the closure of the space, the repeated slurs against the integrity of an intelligent and sensitive director and curator, and the lack of foresight of the ACNI. As now, so in the future I will be supporting wholeheartedly the decisions made by the artists in their protests, and wish Hugh and the staff a successful outcome.


Yours,

Phil Collins 16.03.06, Chicago

Monday, March 20, 2006

Statement of Concern from Robin Klassnik, Matts Gallery, London

It is with great concern that I read of the closure of Ormeau Baths
Gallery in Belfast during the week, particularly the immediacy with
which the action was taken, and the apparent short notice given to
staff.

I have worked with Ormeau Baths Gallery in the past and followed the
programme with interest over the years. I absolutely support and
empathise with the Director Hugh Mulholland and his team at this time,
and am most disappointed that the Arts Council of Northern Ireland have
withdrawn their funding from such an important contemporary art venue.

Yours sincerely


Robin Klassnik

Matts Gallery
42-44 Copperfield Road
London E3 4RR
t 020 8983 1771
f 020 8983 1435
info@mattsgallery.org
www.mattsgallery.org

Letter of endorsement for the former Ormeau Baths Gallery Team

Letter of endorsement for the former Ormeau Baths Gallery Team

Organisations wishing to sign up to this letter can email their organisations name and contact details to campaignforobg@googlemail.com


Dear Minister

We the undersigned wish to acknowledge our support and concern for the former Ormeau Baths Gallery team in light of the consequences of the Arts Council’s decision to suddenly withdraw funding from the Ormeau Baths Gallery.

We have only high praise for the exciting and invigorating programme of contemporary visual arts implemented by the team. It was an invaluable resource that brought high caliber international artwork to a local audience and pitted the work of contemporary Irish artists in an international context.

The OBG played a vital role in the cultural life of Northern Ireland and we mourn the loss of such a highly regarded organisation and worry about the long-term ramifications of this decision.


____Signature___________________________Organisation_______________________

David Crawforth
Director
Beaconsfield Contemporary Art

Flaxart Studios
44 - 46 Corporation St
Belfast
BT1 3DE

Colin Darke
Co-Manager
Void
Patrick Street
Derry
BT48 7EL

declan sheehan
context galleries,
the playhouse,
5-7 artillery st,
derry bt48 6rg

Cliodhna Shaffrey
curator
Ireland

Richard Drury
The Czech Museum of Fine Arts,
Prague

Danielle Sheehy
Art Trail
Cork

Paco Simón
ARTE EN ORBITA
Cl. Jussepe Martinez 7
50003 Zaragoza
España
http://www.arteenorbita.com

Michele Robecchi
Senior Editor
contemporary
K101, 100 Clements Road, London SE16 4DG
www.contemporary-magazine.com

Dr.Maeve Connolly
Dun Laoghaire
Co. Dublin
Ireland

Annie Fletcher
Head of Curatorial Training Programme 05/06
De Appel - Centre for Contemporary Art
Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 10
1017 DE Amsterdam
Amsterdam

Letter of Concern from Sergio Edelsztein, Director, The Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, Israel

To Whom It May Concern:

I am the founder and director of the Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv. About two years ago, I was proposed by the British Council in Israel to curate a show on Northern Irish Art for the Herzelyia Museum of Contemporary Art. The show, in the end, was titled “Belfast Ways” and took place between March and May 2005 featuring the works of ten Belfast-based young artists. This exhibition was central to a wider strategy initiated by the BC to bring closer together Northern Ireland and Israel artistic communities, as being both living in a situation of conflict and creating out and into it.

For the show in Herzelyia I made a research trip to Belfast, and while everyone I met there was helpful and collaborating, the help I got from the Ormeau Baths Gallery and its staff was the most useful both intellectually and logistically. Hugh Mulholland was one of my main referents in Belfast, and his advice was of great importance to me. For the time I was in Belfast OBG became my “office”, where I could meet artists and view their work. It was my impression that having the backing of OBG was a guarantee of seriousness from my part towards the local artists. I was impressed from the way the artists related to OBG as their own “home” and frame of reference.

Since November this year, the CCA in Tel Aviv finally got a building from the Tel Aviv Municipality, and in the program and activities we make, we struggle to achieve that same feeling of belonging and collaboration I saw at OBG.

From the point of view of my experience with OBG and the role it played in my project, it is my feeling that any future policy of internationalizing Northern Ireland art will be greatly jeopardized. While in Belfast, I saw and met just about everyone in the art world, and there is no institution in sight that could play such an important role in this arena. The closure of OGB will bring to an ostracizing of Northern Irish Art from the international scene. I’m sure this is not the intention of the Arts Council; therefore I call upon you to reconsider this step, reopen OBG and reinstate its staff re-define its mission and increase its budget.

Failure to do so will result in immediate and long term damage for the artists living an working in Northern Ireland’s careers and will send the message of backwardness and isolation that is nowhere to be found in the artistic creation of Northern Ireland.

Sincerely,


Sergio Edelsztein
Director
The Center for Contemporary Art
Tel Aviv, Israel

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Article regarding The Scottish Arts Council Bid to Save The Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow

Statement of concern from artist Julie McGowan

The Baths has been synonimous with quality, innovation and thought-
provoking education and outreach activities. It is irreplaceable and of
vital importance to artists and audiences alike. It needs to be reinstated as
soon as possible so damage limitation can be controlled. Julie McGowan

Ruminations on ACNI and OBG from Slavka Sverakova

Ruminations on ACNI and OBG.

I could not be present in person in the rallies, meetings and demonstrations. This does not mean that I do not support all those actions, namely that, what ACNI labels “…a small campaign on behalf of the OBG staff.”

Well, it may be small in numbers, arts are often on margins of a society's interests, but it is not just a campaign on behalf of four persons who face unemployment. Arts do not have the power of, say, a Royal Mail, to disrupt life of a large number of others by taking a strike action.

I have written to five persons involved in the ACNI action. I think it is an unprofessional behaviour that none of them e-mailed me back.

For longer than the three years of ACNI’s encouraging OBG “...to improve their financial situation and their corporate governance” (see ACNI answer to Q 4&5 in blue on their statement published online), I observed a continuous erosion in confidence- and not just amongst artists- in the ACNI as the best model for support of arts. It was observable, but because of the lack of transparency in their decision making, elusive to an in depth analysis.

The case of the OBG sudden closure illustrates pertinently why I do not share the view that ACNI is as perfect and faultless as they assert to be.


Let me elaborate:

1. ACNI says that they have experienced a failure in getting the OBG to have a “strategic plan, a business plan and financial recovery plan” for some THREE YEARS. They still funded it for three years without those plans??? This points either to indecisiveness of ACNI or to the lack of ethical ground for being decisive. ACNI withdrew with an immediate effect both funding and responsibility for the obvious consequences. A case of symmetry – alas, so disappointing…

2. Why I do not believe the ACNI's claim that they did not mean to induce that traumatic event? Because they had collapsed the expected, i.e. an open and well managed debate with and a possible serious warning to their client, and the unexpected, i.e. the immediate cut off funds knowing that OBG had no alternatives. The OBG Board understandably surrendered to the threat involved. The question remains why ACNI chose an aggressive and oppressive mode of work? Arts Councils in the UK are meant to be enabling structures. In this case, what has been enabled by the closure of an important gallery in the middle of a significant exhibition of art whose creators all spent their formative time in Belfast?

3. My next point relates to a principle and to ACNI's role in selecting and/or approving the OBG Board's members. They now claim that they actively seek the replacement of the OBG management team. If ACNI has such a power and responsibility in initiating stages it seems to me very probable that ACNI's responsibility in a closure stage is not out of question. It would appear that ACNI consider the “arm-length” principle unreasonably elastic. Further: if ACNI has a say who becomes a member of OBG Board do their criteria include experience in running a company and taking the risks involved?

4. ACNI sees the solution for the “financial issues” in a change of OBG management team. It may or may not bring about better accountancy. ACNI’s “Dear Client” circular of 01.02.2006 absolves Hugh Mulholland from any other flaws; moreover, it credits him as a curator. While I do not dispute the financial discipline as basic to the practical running of a gallery, I do not see it as the one reason a society pays or does not pay for a venue or pays or does not pay a talented personality. The ACNI’s failure to avoid a traumatic and dramatic solution and unwillingness to select a more appropriate tool than an immediate cutting of support betrays a serious absence of reflective thinking. The ACNI’s claim “”We are committed to ensuring that Belfast City will have a flagship contemporary visual arts gallery that is properly run and has a broad appeal to a local and international audience and represents the very best local and international artists” sounds hollow. They had OBG and failed to ensure its existence. Nowhere accessible ACNI says that OBG failed in pursuing that “broad appeal”, which ACNI now want to guarantee. Moreover, it cannot be guaranteed by a change of a director and the three staff member.

I wonder : i/ if ACNI commissioned a Value for Money report on their own work;

ii/if the Forensic Audit of OBG for the reported £ 15 000 had been the "value-for-money" in the way it was
tendered and applied;

iii/ if ACNI researched the ways in which audiences in places with a long history of terrorism may turn to art,
and to visual contemporary art in particular.

What is the case in each of these instances?


In conclusion: I do not want an apology for ACNI’s lacking dignity and respect for the MFA course (the exhibition now inaccessible), with which I was associated almost as long as the three course directors. I do, instead, support the re-instatement of the OBG staff until the wider issues concerning Arts Council are properly resolved. I do not doubt that there is a better model, a less expensive and a less hierarchical distributor of the taxpayers support for arts. Not only that, I would hope to get one capable of conceptual thought and creative application.

Slavka Sverakova, 5th March 2006