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Zogolovitch: RIBA Trust dissolution an 'embarrassment'

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The dissolution of the RIBA Trust will unravel seven years worth of hard work by its staff and trustees. Writes trustee Roger Zogolovitch

The purpose of the Trust was to include within its membership individuals who, being independent with interests drawn from different walks of life, would be able to assist in the direction and the management of the cultural assets of the RIBA.

The trust terms of reference under which the trustees have conducted their duties makes them custodians of the assets. It has been the independent direction of these assets that has proved to be so successful in the development of the cultural programme of exhibitions, lectures and events, some international.

The Palladio exhibition, which utilised the assets from the Drawings Collection, was shown in Vicenza, the Royal Academy, Madrid and Barcelona and drew visitor numbers of approx 80,000 in each venue, amounting to a total of 320,000 people. In addition a show was mounted at the Morgan Library in New York and again in Washington with further visitors and critical acclaim. The Corbusier show which was exhibited in three cities was an equal success.

In all these cultural events the brand of the RIBA Collections and the RIBA Trust has been reinforced, with the costs of these exhibitions being met from a number of sources including external funding and generated revenue.

The Trust Board worked carefully within the confines of an agreed budget and devoted considerable effort and time to ensure that the programmes worked within these constraints. The independent Trustees operated to support the dedicated staff under Charles Knevitt’s direction.

This is not the time to catalogue the successes of the Trust in detail; the record stands on its own examination.

I would rather reflect on the independent governance and close relationship between the trustees and executive, which has generated a spirit of understanding and co-operation that enabled so many different initiatives to flourish, making public the cultural face of the RIBA.

I consulted an archive document concerning the origination of the independence of the Trust

The Foundation (subsequently renamed Trust) will facilitate the integrated management of activities, ensuring that the cultural output is both balanced and maximised, and thus aims to remove old departmental distinctions e.g. between ‘library’ and ‘gallery’.

Bringing together the departmental and committee work of much of the Library and Information Centre, and much of Communications, the key features of the RIBA Foundation will include:

• Audiences – public, government, media, potential clients, informed associates
• Resources – members’ talents; staff skills; Library & Collections; exhibition space; regional network and facilities;
• Activities – education programmes for adults and young people; website and publications; exhibitions, talks, tours, awards; fund-raising; major joint ventures

Its mission is to advance architecture through outreach to the public, government and the media.

It’s objective are to demonstrate the benefits of good architecture – for the economy, communities and individual ¬— and to promote and enhance the benefits in concert with government, industry and partners.

As this manifesto states, this was the reason for the Trust being set up as an independent unit.

It was to make credible that a key part of RIBA activity would be directed not to the self- interests of its members, but to its wider contribution to the world beyond that membership.

This would involve looking at the role that architecture plays in our society and making the case that people outside the profession need to understand the importance and value of design to 21st Century culture.

It is exactly through lectures, exhibitions, publication and awards that this clear message can be reinforced within our wider public audiences. This is architecture and its practitioners looking outwards to consumers rather than indulging in professional and institutional navel-gazing.

Scrapping the Trust and turning it back to a ‘Collections Committee’ will destroy the ethic and the hard won success that staff and trustees have achieved.

The long-standing presentation of the Stirling Prize on Channel 4 and BBC2, and the new sponsorship of the Manser Medal with HSBC Private Bank are more and direct representations of the wider importance that has been gained by the independent reputation of the Trust and the activities of its dedicated members.

I raise the question, in a world in which arts and cultural organizations are increasingly failing, as to what grounds it would benefit the purposes of the charity for the ‘RIBA Trust Limited to cease to operate as an active decision-making body on 31 December 2010’?

I am sure my fellow architect Trustees will share my embarrassment at this discourteous and unilateral action which has been promoted by the RIBA Board and sanctioned by the RIBA Council.

It is unreasonable that non-architect trustees, who have given their time and effort tirelessly over long periods of time to such good effect, have not been afforded the common courtesy of an explanation.

There has been no meeting of the Trust Board where any paper has been presented for discussion, and no consultation with my fellow Trustees has been undertaken. Yet on the 1st January 2011 we will cease to exist.

This is a state of affairs that must not go unchallenged.

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