TAITMAIL Museums of the Community Age

“Why can’t we sit in a comfy armchair, drink coffee and chat while we look at art?” Kenneth Hudson liked to posit. “Why do we have to treat a visit to the museum as if it were a sepulchre where you have to stand in silence and awe?”

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TAITMAIL Getting personal to stop the death of jazz

One of the deep grassroots of our cultural heritage is dying. It’s jazz and the cause of its demise seems to be, well, its informality.

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TAITMAIL Back to the music

In a monstrous conspiracy of fate British musicians, acknowledged globally as the finest in the world, have never had it so bad thanks to Brexit, Covid and the cost of living crisis. Employment among professional musicians fell by 35% in 2020 alone.

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TAITMAIL Opening the Eye of York

By Patrick Kelly, northern editor

York has everything a self-respecting tourist city might want – a smattering of Roman ruins, a magnificent Gothic cathedral, medieval streets with crazily overhanging houses, a clutch of fine suitably colonnaded Georgian buildings, and most of its original walls.  But one thing York is missing is a castle. 

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TAITMAIL Burrell and the lost heiress

The Burrell Collection that reopened in Glasgow’s Pollok Park this week is magnificent by any standards, maybe a model for a modern museum.

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TAITMAIL Lincoln, the artists’ playground

The Battle of Lincoln in 1217 isn’t up there with Hastings or The Field of the Cloth of Gold or Bannockburn in the pantheon of major conflicts that define our history. It doesn’t feature much in the history books or make it to the silver screen.

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TAITMAIL Arts investment - going south

By Patrick Kelly, Northern Editor

Nadine Dorries didn’t mince her words in the Yorkshire Post when announcing the government’s approach to levelling up arts funding a few weeks ago. It’s the “biggest ever shake-up in arts funding” she says, designed to redress the “deeply unfair” imbalance in government support for the arts between London and the rest of the country.

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TAITMAIL How the time for Warburg’s science of culture is now

Today at a Philips auction in Berkeley Square the last bricks will be taken out of the wall hiding one of London’s best kept secrets, the Warburg Institute.

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TAITMAIL How the RSC plans to make us arts rich

Twenty years ago Adrian Noble drew almost universal opprobrium when, as the RSC’s artistic director, he engineered the company’s departure from the Barbican in London (where the theatre was tailor-made for the ompany), believing that Shakespeare belongs at least as much to regional audiences who he felt had been neglected in favour of the London bright lights. He wanted to refocus on Stratford.

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TAITMAIL Nadine’s bounty

An interesting week for arts funding. As the Arts Council got down to the nitty gritty of its national portfolio for 2023-27, Nadine Dorries announced a new £50m pot of money intended to level up arts funding outside London and the South East.

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TAITMAIL Is Mr JD the last of the Medicis?

The death last week of John Sainsbury will not, we must earnestly hope, mean the end of an era of personal and family philanthropy. But it does feel like it.

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TAITMAIL The Shropshire house that Caldecott is building

We Brits love our children’s illustrators. It’s through the work of Kate Greenaway (The Pied Piper of Hamelin), John Tenniel (Alice in Wonderland) and Ernest Shepard (Wind in the Willows) that we visualise our earliest reading, and versions without their drawings just aren’t quite the same.

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TAITMAIL Omicron: What, then, can we do?

So now what? Lockdown by any other name - no indiscriminate mixing indoors the doctors say - appears to be inevitable and with Omicron on the gallop the only question seems to be whether it happens before or after Christmas.

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TAITMAIL Mr Gove - time to experience the Northern levels

By Patrick Kelly, Northern Editor

Walk on the square - perhaps piazza might be too fancy a term - outside Barnsley’s gleaming town hall, now repurposed as a cultural space, and admire Nigel Hall’s dramatic Crossing sculpture.

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TAITMAIL Behind the battlements

Nottingham Castle Museum was doing well, for a museum without much real history left to talk about, and it was getting a healthy 150,000 visitors a year - about half what Stonehenge gets - before it closed for its £30m refurb which it was hoped would double the numbers. 

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TAITMAIL Museums’ plea to the young - ‘come back, we need you’

It is the practice to aim museums’ didactic at a 12-year-old schoolchild, not to dumb down but because that is the demographic that is most intellectually receptive and represents the level of attention visitors will have – carefully constructed so as to give the right information without being exhaustive. Generally a 12-year-old is interested, unbiased, questioning and is able to absorb new concepts easily.

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TAITMAIL Arts boards missing out on disabled talent

Arts organisations are missing out by not recruiting disabled people to their boards for their intellectual abilities rather than their physical status.

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TAITMAIL Sadler’s Wells has earned the national status that’s being withheld

A quarter of a century or so ago there was a fervour for a national dance theatre. We had a national theatre, a national gallery, a nation opera company, even a national youth orchestra, but never a national theatre of dance. 

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TAITMAIL All our yesterdays… signifying nothing?

The National Trust’s annual meeting on Saturday was billed as being potentially the most explosive since its foundation 126 years ago. More than 100,000 members zoomed in from 12 countries, joining 400 in a Harrogate hall. What happened?

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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?

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TAITMAIL Wars of empire as real people saw them

TOTAL WAR! the didactic shouts at the start of the Imperial War Museum’s new permanent exhibition: the concept realised for the first time with the Second World War that non-combatants as well as combatants were considered legitimate targets.

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TAITMAIL My street, where culture knows no bounds

When it was announced four years ago the London mayor’s plan looked like bandwagonism that would quickly pass in the night, floated along behind Hull’s hugely successful year as the government sponsored UK City of Culture and Yvette Cooper’s call for “Towns of Culture”. Now it seems to be driving its own, apolitical, path.

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TAITMAIL Not so much a war as a board game

So how’s the culture war going? Dispatches from the front are confusing.

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TAITMAIL The ticket to a new audience?

By Patrick Kelly, Northern Editor

Post-pandemic - that is assuming that we are in a post-pandemic phase, and Covid 19 has no new plans to come back and surprise us - what will happen with audiences for the arts? Can we assume that the same people who would have been trooping in to watch theatre, concerts, dance or cinema will return in their droves again, desperate to get the cultural fix? Is it a given that museum and gallery audiences will just pick up where they left off and return in numbers to those blockbuster exhibitions they have been missing?

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TAITMAIL British Council cuts: ‘An act of wilful self-harm’

The UK’s soft power pre-eminence, the British Council reported in 2019, “is vital for its post-Brexit future”. But the cuts to the BC’s operations announced this week will significantly disempower us, said our former national security advisor Lord Ricketts: “I find this completely perverse”.

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TAITMAIL Art’s toilet key to the future

With the imminent completion of its £110m Herzog & De Meuron designed building in Battersea, the Royal College of Art is moving ever more closely to being the world’s leading centre for industrial design, which some see as a negation of its name. 

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TAITMAIL Barbicancelled

Nicholas Kenyon leaves the Barbican today after 14 years as its managing director. Nothing extraordinary in that, he is 70 after all, and he’s going back to his first love, music, as the Daily Telegraph’s opera critic. But there’s a nasty taste about his departure that has nothing to do with him. Kenyon has, in effect, been cancelled, and it hurts.

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TAITMAIL Street art at your toes

There’s a major historic landmark in popular sport coming up, the centenary of women’s football being banned by the FA. Soccer is by far the most popular participatory wide-scale sport, and this anniversary is being marked by an increasingly key popular artform.

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TAITMAIL Local spirit

There are two kinds of local museum. One is set up as a perceived duty and run by the local authority; the other is there because of the devotion of a group of enthusiasts. Both sorts range the spectrum from inspiring to dismal.

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TAITMAIL High hopes

By Patrick Kelly, Northern Editor

Britain’s high streets are a sorry sight these days. Boarded-up shops, abandoned arcades, vandalised benches and planters are becoming all too familiar for those shoppers who still like the idea of purchasing stuff from someone behind a counter. In some of the country’s poorer communities, shuttered shopfronts are the norm rather than the exception and once thriving town centres are deserted by teatime.

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TAITMAIL Moral counterpoint: greenwashing meets gagging

There was an obvious irony in Shell sponsoring the Science Museum’s year-long exhibition Our Future Planet, a show about how to get carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere supported by a global fossil fuel company that for over a century has spent billions putting carbon dioxide into our environment. It is the first ever exhibition about carbon capture and opened in May.

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TAITMAIL The creative economy, where local becomes global

It’s 69 pages long and stashed with stats and recommendations, but the latest report from Oxford Economics - The UK Creative Industries: unleashing the power and potential of creativity, commissioned by the Creative UK Group (the umbrella of the Creative Industries Federation and Creative England whose first joint publication this is) - makes two things plain. 

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TAITMAIL The community that wouldn’t let its museum die

All of this year’s Museum of the Year shortlist for the £100,000 prize are regional museums. “Our five finalists” said Jenny Waldman, Art Fund director and chair of the judges, “are all deeply embedded in their communities... They have each shown extraordinary innovation and resolve”. 

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TAITMAIL Down at the old Frog & Biscuit

Pub closures were a tragedy already happening when the pandemic started, and subsequently the mortality rate has risen sharply. According to the Morning Advertiser, the publican’s bible, 446 pubs disappeared in England and Wales in 2020, 37 a month, more than one a day.  

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TAITMAIL A Lancashire lack

By Patrick Kelly, Northern Editor

Everyone knows by now the important role that local government plays in the cultural ecology of the country. Attention is often focused on the UK government, or more precisely the UK government in its function as funder of the arts in England. There’s lots of debate about Arts Council England, too, and the part it plays in supporting cultural activity. But local government as a whole gets less airtime. Partly this is a result of the hugely centralised media we have. If it hasn’t happened in London, it’s probably not that important.

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TAITMAIL Dealing with the woke Dickens

The V&A has decided to take the government’s war against wokedom – or “contested heritage” – head on. 

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TAITMAIL Two reasons why theatre won’t die

Being aware of the unbelievable hardship that has oppressed the theatre sector these long, long 15 months makes stories of triumphing endeavour by practitioners of all sorts all the more astonishing.

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TAITMAIL Hard facts

   By Patrick Kelly, Northern Editor

Part of the problem in advancing the cause of culture in government and other circles is the argument, sometimes unspoken sometimes said out loud, that the arts “business” is somehow not “real”.

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TAITMAIL Theatre, large and small, where the twain must meet

Twenty-five years ago Ayub Khan-Din’s East is East was a ground-breaking piece of theatre, bringing to British audiences with dark humour the torments of tradition versus contemporary life for so many British Pakistani families.

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TAITMAIL Taiwan’s designer gift to the world: a warm heart melody

Design, I thought, is the most pragmatic of disciplines, but I was wrong. The London Design Biennale’s 33 pavilions, answering to the theme of “resonance”, have turned it into a mystical practice.

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TAITMAIL Centennial blues… and red and white


By Patrick Kelly

We have heard a lot about culture wars in the UK lately, but the truth is that the “rows” over everything from the displaying of union flags to the dumping of statues is an essentially English argument. 

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TAITMAIL My painting, my lockdown friend

Visual artists have suffered more than many in this pandemic, most of them being freelance and not eligible for the grants other self-employed have been. 

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TAITMAIL Levelling up or de-oiking?

I’m not sure if the government is trying to level us up or level us down, or who the levellers and the levellees are. Who are the British and what do they look like? Our museums should be able to tell us. 

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TAITMAIL Don’t ask football magnates the way to the future, talk to young artists…

One of the justifications for the quickly aborted European Super League this week was that young people had lost interest in football and needed to be enticed back or else the game would die. 

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TAITMAIL A non-fungible silver lining

The search for a silver lining in this coronavirus shitstorm has been depressingly disappointing, but there has been one gleam for our sector, particularly for the visual arts: digital technology.

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TAITMAIL Stretching the philanthropy lifeline

Well, we made it - didn't we? As of Monday we can start to open with shops and outdoor events, come May 17 museums and theatres can open and on Midsummer’s Day almost everything will be back to normal. We think.

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TAITMAIL Uneven recovery?

By Patrick Kelly

It’s the hope that keeps you going. Ask any artistic director or CEO of an arts institution how they have survived this calamitous year and most will say that the prospect of re-engaging with live audiences is what has sustained them through the long months of lockdown. 

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TAITMAIL The final curtain?

Despite the V&A’s protestations there’s widespread belief that it intends to finally close its theatre and performance department. 

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TAITMAIL Days of bread and roses

“Bread and roses” was a stroke of soundbite genius used over a century ago by the American workers’ rights activist Helen Todd to represent her campaign for “fair wages and dignified conditions”. It was invoked again this week in support of creative industries’ freelance workers by the actor Siobhan McSweeney.

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TAITMAIL The aftershow sweet spot

It’s all very well venues and museums being allowed to open again from May 17, but how are they going to lure their audiences back from the newfound comfort and safety of their laptops? And how do presenters know their audiences’ tastes are still the same after all that’s changed in the last year? 

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TAITMAIL Going nuts in May

The Covid experience has taught us a lot about the value of art and how it is valued, and many see the government’s apparently new attitude as positive. 

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TAITMAIL A finger on the balance of history

The government has it in for museums. AI had to change its report on Boris Johnson’s “roadplan” on Monday three times because it wasn’t clear when museums were to be allowed to open. Not till May 17 is the final word.

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TAITMAIL The room where it didn’t happen

By Patrick Kelly

The news that the National Theatre is abandoning any plans to tour its productions in Europe is a stark reminder that decisions have consequences.  The decision of the culture secretary and his department, and his government colleagues, not to back the creative industries will haunt us for many years to come.  

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TAITMAIL London, sniffing the cultural coffee

When we finally awake from this nightmare, and by my calculation that should be just in time for the last few shopping days to Christmas, the world will look completely different. And the world at Christmas, before we went into our Covid coma, was the high street.

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TAITMAIL The miracle of museums

The Canterbury Miracle Windows are a miracle in themselves, in that they have survived the kind of vandals that tear down statues of people they disapprove of.

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TAITMAIL The arts, healing with kindness

That The Guardian should devote its entire leader column on Saturday to the arts was encouraging, but that it should be so positive – under the headline The arts, though dealt a terrible shock, will help Britain recover – was uplifting. 

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TAITMAIL The absence of what we do together

As expected, the Brexit deal was taken to a cliff edge, and as ever the arts were left hanging by the fingers, bemused and white knuckled.

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TAITMAIL But I get up again…

Founded ten years ago, STEAM Co. is on a mission to encourage creativity in schools and communities across the disciplines - Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths - and it has never been busier than in this Covid year. The Co. is for Collaboration. 

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TAITMAIL Our museum walls are closing in

In the circumstances it seems like a pragmatic decision for a national museum. Almost obvious. Never mind arbitrary closing of some galleries, limited cafe service, skeleton-staffed shop. Just close the place for a couple of days a week.

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TAITMAIL Woke up and smell the politics

The chair of the Charity Commission has waded into the wokeness row in the context of how it is being felt in the heritage sector, following the National Trust’s revision of the history of some of its properties.

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