I must challenge the statement made by the Jerwood’s Liz Gilmore’s about “controlling its costs”. Why? Because the Jerwood must be accountable to its community as long as it enjoys favoured treatment at our expense, zero business rates and free land.
And because I care about what it should mean to the artistic life of our town.
The gallery business isn’t complicated.
Annual grant aside, money comes from admissions, sales, private events and indirectly from the café. Footfall is king, as anyone with retail experience knows:
Get people in the door, give them a quality experience, make them want to return.
With record attendances at Coastal Currents, great Stade events and excellent exhibitions at the Hastings Arts Forum and elsewhere, “Art” is in the air. But without consulting the council, interest groups, visitors and staff, the Jerwood’s strategy was to hike prices and reduce concessions. The result? Poor attendances and a rumbling discontent at pricing.
What about innovative strategies for attracting new visitors and maximising footfall: halving prices, increasing concessions, targeting new audiences? Where’s the marketing know-how?
The new cost-savings relate entirely to the wages of gallery assistants, an essential part of the visitor experience – unlike most other galleries. Despite zero hour contracts and wages just above the national minimum, a dedicated, enthusiastic and knowledgeable team of gallery assistants take time to research and explain the works, share their expertise and help you look at challenging works in a different way. I learn something new on every visit. How can unpaid volunteers be expected to replicate this? This will damage the visitor experience. I hope I’m wrong but I am unconvinced.
Why not look at the acquisition costs of new works and the mechanisms if any for managing this process? Is it simply buy a picture, cut staff and balance the books? What about non-customer facing staff? Are they value for money? These questions demand an answer as does the apparent lack of any sense of obligation to the community.
The Jerwood is not a private fiefdom or a rich man’s plaything. It is a community asset.