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TAKEN ON TRUST

AGENDA

Graeme Russell can certainly talk the talk. Perhaps it's the Stella Artois. No, that's unfair on the RIBA Trust's new head of programmes.

Admittedly, on only his first day in the job, he has decided to take me for a pint in a pub just off Portland Place. However, it is clear Russell's plans to give the institute's exhibitions a good kick up the backside aren't fuelled by lager.

The ambitious 41-year-old Scot is something of a showman.

He is also determined. He wants to shake up the RIBA and put on a series of blockbusting extravaganzas to excite both the profession and the public.

It is a confidence which could be mistaken for arrogance. But it is the same approach which helped make the highly acclaimed CUBE in Manchester so successful during his six years in charge.

'This is not about hanging f**king foamex boards on the walls, ' he says. 'These exhibitions will not be a backdrop to a café.' Could this possibly be a reference to the current arrangements at Portland Place?

He adds: 'First and foremost, exhibitions have to be entertaining. People tend to shy away from saying this. But if you have an architectural exhibition you shouldn't expect some booby to come in and have to read a book on a wall.' To achieve his dreams Russell knows he is going to have to find a new space away from the RIBA's headquarters building. He also knows he may have to ruffle some feathers.

He says: 'Portland Place is a superb building and we will continue to use it for certain types of exhibition.

'It does have a role to play but it is important to develop space orientated to the public - not a set up just for members.' He adds: 'I want large exhibitions and that is one of the reasons I'm here.' Russell boasts of plans for major international shows on architectural innovators such as Jean Prouvé and huge, world- beating exhibitions to rival those at MoMA in New York.

Of course this will all cost money and one of his biggest challenges is to drum up financial support, in particular from the private sector.

He says: 'One reason I have been brought in is because we need a shed load of money.

New projects need new funding.

It's all about bringing funding to the table to achieve that.'

Russell also wants to shift the emphasis away from exhibitions as the only way of promoting architecture and the Trust's wealth of information.

If appropriate he will happily turn to other media such as films and books and hopes to set up shows which can travel around the country.

Russell and his team, which includes the RIBA former exhibition curator Rob Wilson, are also looking at commissioning architecture for experimental exhibitions.

He suggests a new temporary bar or pavilion which could become a social hub and a melting pot for ideas.

He says: 'I've been given the freedom to develop a programme that's the dog's bollocks.' So how has this selfproclaimed 'ideas person' ended up here? There is no doubt it's an unusual journey. After studying philosophy, Russell became a performance artist and sculptor. In the 1980s he once gave a show in an abandoned railway wagon in Kassel, Germany.

Years later he started his fight to set up CUBE, a battle which lasted four years.

Eventually, in November 1998, CUBE opened its doors and staged a variety of shows to considerable public acclaim.

But towards the end of last year a frustrated Russell decided he'd had enough and in May he stepped down. 'I took it as far as I could within the funding climate, ' he says.

'It was increasingly difficult to fund the type of things I wanted to develop. It was time to reassess how I moved forward.

'I was wanting to do bigger things but I couldn't within CUBE.' At the time of his resignation fingers were pointed at CABE for withholding money - effectively strangling the centre. But Russell claims the press got it wrong. He says: 'CUBE essentially closed because certain public bodies withdrew their funding.

But it was basically down to the regional development agency. They were just no longer interested.' Despite this kick in the teeth Russell admits he was content, quietly mulling over his future, when Charles Knevitt, the director of the RIBA Trust, approached him to become head of programmes.

He also confesses he took some persuading before he applied for the job, knowing that he would have to leave behind his family in the North West to take up the post.

However, Knevitt's enthusiasm to take the Trust in a new direction won through.

Even so, both sides are aware it will take time before the fruits of the appointment blossom.

Russell says: 'To achieve what I'm interested in will take a couple of years. It's about creating an identity.' 'The good thing about the RIBA Trust is it forces you to work hard on new ideas to transcend people's concerns about [the name].' And Russell knows he'll have to work hard.

As he finishes his drink he adds: 'You are only as good as your last project, you can never rest on your laurels.' Let the show begin.

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