Wakefield Hepworth gallery boss says creativity will play a huge in shaping city's future

As The Hepworth Wakefield reopens tomorrow with the biggest exhibition it has ever hosted its director is looking at the ways the gallery can contribute to the future of the city.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 2:01 pm
Updated Thursday, 20th May 2021, 2:02 pm
The Hepworth will host its biggest ever exhibition

Friday will mark the 10th anniversary of the gallery and features the largest exhibition of Dame Barbara Hepworth’s work since her death in 1975, with some works borrowed from private collections.

The gallery’s director, Simon Wallis, said: “This is a once in a generation moment to see such a breadth of Barbara Hepworth’s work and celebrate one of most important artists of the 20th century.

“What has been missing over the past year is the people bringing the gallery to life.

“This is a chance for a new generation to celebrate one of our local heroes who became one of the best in her field.

“She never lost sight of what she got from where she was from and it will be lovely to share the importance of that work.”

For Simon the Hepworth has never been just about putting artwork on display.

He says the work the gallery has done with local artists in schools to encourage creativity and the role it has played in making Wakefield a place of cultural significance has been crucial.

That influence is continuing with the Rutland Mills development on the city’s waterfront, next door to the gallery.

Though the pandemic has meant many of the changes are yet to be seen a lot of work has been going on behind the scenes to convert the old buildings into Tileyard North.

It will be a state of the art facility for creative industries when completed and is expected to create around 500 jobs.

It will work hand in hand with the Hepworth and is intended to cement Wakefield’s position as a forward-thinking city.

Simon said: “I had a tour just last week and it is amazing.

“It’s a wonderful new neighbour for the Hepworth and it can be a beacon of creativity in the district. It will bring great future jobs for the district in a world completely altered by technology. I think Tileyard North have seen that potential – why would they invest if they did not believe in the future of Wakefield – and we certainly do.

“I have spent the best time I have had in my professional life here and I don’t think I have ever been more excited about the future of Wakefield as I am now.”

Simon said a financial report is set to be published that will show every £1 invested in the Hepworth is worth £9.43 to the local economy.

And he acknowledged not everyone was keen on the look of the building but said it served a purpose. He said: “I know the building is contentious, but once you are able to see what it does the interior spaces people understand it a bit more.”

The Hepworth was named Art Fund Museum of the Year 2017. Simon said: “To beat the likes of Tate Modern when they were opening a whole new section shows it not just about London and the South East.”

And he said the introduction of a metro mayor to West Yorkshire should give the region a stronger voice for other big projects.

He said: “The politics don’t matter, the ambition and ability to deliver does and we at the Hepworth want to play a meaningful part. We all have to work together.”