As reported in the national press and websites last weekend, the Jerwood Gallery at the Stade looks likely to lose virtually its entire permanent collection of around 300 artworks and much of its funding in November, following a very public bust-up with its financial and artistic sponsor, the Jerwood Foundation. 

PICTURE: Owen Price

Discussions on a future relationship were being conducted between the Gallery, which became an independent charity in 2017, and the Foundation, which provided the bulk of the money to erect the building, and also the collection of art that it houses, but wanted to curtail its further financial commitment. Then 91-year-old chairman and controller of the Foundation, Alan Grieve, gave an interview, published on the Telegraph website last Saturday and splashed across the Sunday newspaper the following day, that referred to “a breakdown in relations”. He complained that the Gallery had accused the Foundation of “failing to meet its obligations on funding” and had instructed Quinn, Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, an American law firm “specialist in corporate disputes” to press its legal case. Mr Grieve said that, in response, the Foundation has not only retracted an offer to provide funding at a reduced level for a further two years. It has served notice requiring the Gallery to return by November ‘the Jerwood Collection’, i.e. every piece of art, including works by LS Lowry and Barbara Hepworth, that it had previously provided. 

It also seems that the Gallery will lose the right to the Jerwood name, though that may be a matter of mutual satisfaction. The Gallery charity trustees had apparently suggested that retention of it was impeding their fundraising efforts in other directions.  

Esther McLaughlin, Head of Development and Communications at the Gallery, issued a statement in reply on Sunday. She confirmed that the trustees had been in discussion with the Foundation to ensure a long term future. “We are disappointed to learn that the Foundation appear to have broken off these discussions by making public statements when negotiations are not yet concluded.”

The Gallery seems to be accepting at this stage that it will lose the Jerwood Collection from its exhibition rooms. But Ms McLaughlin maintained that the Gallery had “built a name for itself” through its temporary exhibitions programme, often in partnership with national institutions such as Tate and the National Gallery. The departure of the Collection would allow it “to use the full potential of its remarkable building, offering a broader range of exhibitions for the different audience groups it has built”.

She also proclaimed: “It has given a voice to the strong artistic heritage of the town and wider region, and has worked closely with local schools and education organisations. Trustees are committed to the future of the gallery in Hastings. The Gallery is now in discussions with Arts Council England and other key partners.”

What that amounts to in cash terms remains to be seen. The Foundation is said to have funded the Gallery with grants amounting cumulatively to £2.6m since its opening in 2012 on top of the £3.6m it paid previously to erect and equip the building. Last year the Gallery requested a grant of £200,000 from the Arts Council but received only half that figure. A decade ago Hastings Borough Council controversially handed over the land – formerly used as a coach park – to the Foundation without charge as its contribution to the enterprise. Further bouts of generosity from that quarter seem unlikely, and time to find sustainable alternatives is short: the Gallery’s lease comes up for renewal in three years’ time. 

The building won a RIBA national award when completed seven years ago. Is it unfair to make comparisons with another award-winning structure not so far away?

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