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Tate director outlines her plans for ‘the world’s most artistically adventurous institution’

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New Tate chief Maria Balshaw has spoken of the ‘need to hardwire arts and culture into London’s economic and social development’

Speaking at Open City’s inaugural Thornton Lecture in front of an A-list audience which included Michael and Patty Hopkins, Spencer de Grey, Alan Stanton, Julia Barfield, and Crispin Kelly, Balshaw said: ‘[Previous Tate director] Nicholas Serota created the most extraordinary set of buildings for the institution but we now need to learn how to live in them’.

But she warned: ‘I haven’t got a long list of building projects, large or small, that we are going to be doing.’

Held at the Tate Modern last week, the annual lecture named in honour of Open House founder Victoria Thornton, invites a high-profile guest speaker to address the topic of The Open City.

On the subject of the museum’s contentious £260 million extension to its Bankside home, Balshaw said: ‘Since the opening of the new Tate Modern [extension] we have been exploring the potential of this building as a part of the city – open on all sides to that city with the Turbine Hall, as Herzog & de Meuron always imagined it, an indoor street.’

Tate Modern HdM 1829

Tate Modern HdM 1829

Balshaw, who took over from Serota this summer, credited his vision for the gallery for ‘helping to change London and the global arts scene’.

Outlining her plans for the institution she said: ‘I want us to be always the world’s most artistically adventurous institution, and at the same time, the most culturally inclusive global art museum.

‘We should be connected to partners and arts centres across the world with a global reputation that draws people into our galleries. At the same time, we need to be locally rooted and relevant to the people in London.’

Balshaw, who transformed Manchester’s 2015 Stirling Prize-shortlisted Whitworth art gallery by MUMA (pictured bottom) with a programme of critically acclaimed exhibitions, spoke out about the threat to London’s creativity from rising property prizes.

‘As a creative city, London is under threat’, she said. ‘The average salary of an artist is around £10,000 per year, but the average property price in London is £600,000.

‘The Mayor’s office predicts that 30 per cent of London’s artists’ spaces will be lost in the next five years and he has announced his intention to establish creative zones to ensure that artists can still afford studios. This is vitally important if we are to hang on to the arts ecology of this city.

‘We need to hardwire arts and culture into London’s economic and social development.’

The Whitworth by MUMA

The Whitworth by MUMA

Source: Alan Williams

The Whitworth by MUMA

Comment: Rory Olcayto, chief executive, Open City

The Thornton Lecture is named in honour of Open House founder Victoria Thornton. To be held annually, it has a simple premise: a guest speaker of international repute, addressing the topic of ‘The Open City’.

Victoria’s contribution to London, and the public’s appreciation and understanding of architecture and urban design, is immense.

Forget Grand Designs, Open House – unpretentious, egalitarian and free – is the biggest success story to emerge from British architectural culture in living memory. Literally millions of Britons have enjoyed this friendly September weekend event for the past quarter-century.

Before the Stirling Prize, the Serpentine Pavilion, Tate Modern, the Dome and the London Eye, before the Shard, the Gherkin and the Cheesegrater came Open House. It opened the door to popular architectural culture.

And while Open House has always been a collective endeavour, it is right that we highlight Victoria’s crucial role. Put simply, without Victoria – her vision and tenacity – Open House London would just be another good idea that never went anywhere.

Clearly, however, this was an idea that resonated with the public. So much so that each year they come in their thousands – actually their hundreds of thousands.

So much so that the mayor last year asked us to join his #Londonisopen campaign, and Sadiq Khan officially launched our silver anniversary Open House weekend this year.


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