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Jan 13 / Simon

Blog/10/1/11

The end of Sheffield’s Hong Kong dream
It was the job of a lifetime, as he put it himself: creating a £1.87 billion arts centre for Kowloon with new concert halls, galleries and theatres, with his own team and a fully supportive board. It’s lasted less than six months, and Graham Sheffield is back in the UK presumably nursing the ill-health that was his reason for resigning at Christmas. “He needs to recuperate first and be with family” said a spokeswoman for him. “On top of everything, it has been a huge upheaval”. What the ailment is that brought the career-changing medical advice is not known, but it must be devastating for 58-year-old Sheffield to have to give up on the Hong Kong idyll. But I wonder if there’s at least a touch of relief too. Despite the free hand he is said to have been given, the former British colony has become notorious for its Chinese-inspired bureaucracy. He has said stoutly that he is proud to have been “part of this wonderful project and to have contributed to substantial progress”, but it will be interesting to see who replaces him after the “global search for a replacement” and whether this has been too much of a kind of cultural culture clash – inscrutability is not normally a part of the Western arts management toolkit. No doubt more will become clear in due course, but meanwhile Sheffield himself should not long be out of work. He and John Tusa made the Barbican into an arts centre after 20 years of identity crisis, and even with the cultural sector experiencing nuclear winter right now there will be an important job for him to do somewhere, hopefully closer to home perhaps as head of arts at the British Council, no vacant again – when he’s fit.

De-creating partnerships
A good two months after Creative Partnerships was abolished, that old spearshaker Ian McKellen has emerged in The Observer protesting, alongside “Sir” Dennis Healey – actually Baron Healey of Riddlesden – the “accomplished watercolourist”. Ed Vaizey, the cukiture secretary, blithely blames it on the Arts Council – even though CP funding was a separate DCMS subvention from ACE’s grant it was administered by ACE and CP was part of the independent charity Creativity, Culture and Education, the cut was announced by ACE – but, given the government’s scorched earth approach to the arts, whoever took the decision must have seen CP as the lowest hanging fruit. But PricewaterhouseCoopers has found that that every £1 of that generated £15.30 in economic benefits, putting artists and creative learning in more than 2,500 schools. Eight years of building a proper foundation of the arts in basic education has been abandoned. But then, education is not a DCMS responsibility, any more than art is in the Education portfolio. Unfortunate, Vaizey admits, but it will be “up to local cultural organisations to get involved”. The Big Society making our world smaller, meaner and even more limited.

Is this an iPad I see before me?

New tech and old culture are getting “close up and personal” as of today with the British Library offering a new app to iPhone, iPad and Android users. They’re putting 100 of their best things with HD images and even videos, ranging among the oldest Bible, Nelson’s Trafalgar battle plan and the hand-written first draft of Nicholas Nickleby, Al very exciting, specially the loan of the tabloid phrase I quote in the first line, but why must the dear old BL be so frousty about their coalition with hand-held age? “The Library is committed to increasing access to its collections and broadening the reach of our services and this app demonstrates our commitment to engaging with the mobile community” says Frances Brindle, the BL’s head of strategy. Well, OK, but do you need to tighten your corset laces quite so much to admit it?