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New body can learn from Arts Council

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Following your germane leader (aj 21.1.99), I think that the time has come for the work of the Arts Council in relation to architecture to be put in context so that the new Architecture Commission can benefit from its experience and achievement.

In 1992 Peter Palumbo gave the Arts Council the central position in a constellation of different organisations that have changed the attitude towards architectural quality in this country. The Architecture Unit of the Arts Council then laid the foundations on which now a new architectural body can be built - and in no way does this belittle the rfac's key role in this endeavour.

Lord Palumbo immediately realised at the outset of the Lottery that the quality of architecture was a central issue to the future success of the building of billions of pounds of arts, sports and heritage buildings. He commissioned the 'Architecture and Executive Agencies' report on quality to which distributors signed up. Rory Coonan ably steered this through and, with Sandy Wilson's help, initiated the Architecture Unit; it became allied to the Visual Arts Department and is seen as a star in a very difficult era for ace. It received a very small amount of money which was used effectively, £1.5 million being distributed since 1992. During my chairmanship from 1994-98, architecture was acknowledged as an art form and integrated into the Arts Council; we started the Architecture Centres Network and core- funded the Architecture Foundation among many other projects with Alicia Pivaro from 1996, such as the Jane Drew Award, Archigram, Future Systems and Frank Lloyd Wright exhibitions, and Architecture Week jointly with the riba.

In parallel, we instituted the Architecture Committee of the Lottery, which David Rock has organised and which is chaired by Lady Hopkins. You can already see the results in such projects as the new Sadler's Wells, a design success now after heavy intervention, the Tricycle Theatre Kilburn, and the Royal Opera House. These are all in London, but many other good buildings for the arts around the country, such as the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, and Walsall Art Gallery, have been built. There can be no denying that the Arts Council has achieved a great deal for architecture through its insistence on quality in Lottery projects, and I am sad that the present administration has turned its back on some outstanding schemes.

But there is more. Under two funds - Arts for Everyone and the New Audiences Fund of the ace - the North Kent Architecture Centre has just received £300,000; Liverpool Architecture and Design Trust £70,000; and the Design Museum £70,000. Did anyone realise that the Architecture Foundation's Roadshow received £75,000; Architecture Week £20,000; and Bristol Architecture Centre £30,000 for three major touring international exhibitions? Both the above ace funds will offer opportunities for funding architecture in the future and this is enthusiastically supported by the director of visual arts.

Maybe it hasn't been adequately signalled that the Year of Architecture and Design was the Arts Council's invention. It funded Glasgow City of Architecture and Design with an initial £400,000.

ace had money and used it in such a way that the present government now has the instruments to put in hand a far-reaching and effective architectural body. Further, ace has money for grants and, since the new Architecture Commission looks seriously underfunded, this should not be disregarded. My view is that this new body should not divorce itself from the expertise which would come from a close collaboration with the Arts Council, not least because of its enthusiasm for architecture, the vitality of the art and architecture movement fed by Lottery funding and the benefits of cross-disciplinary working, its expertise in education and grants administration and the uk-wide regional organisation.


Ahrends Burton & Koralek

London NW1

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