Letter - Why The Hepworth is critical to Wakefield’s future, says gallery’s director

The Hepworth, Wakefield
The Hepworth, Wakefield

It’s wonderful to see the transformation in Wakefield since I first arrived in the district, eight years ago when the foundations of the gallery were being built in a muddy hole in the ground.

I honestly don’t think that any of us involved in the project then could have fully imagined the extent of the success in store for the city’s gallery just a few years later.

Our initial target of attracting 150,000 visitors per year was smashed within the first six weeks of the gallery’s launch in May 2011.

Within three years we have welcomed over a million visitors, with 67% of them coming from outside the Wakefield District and 3% from overseas.

The gallery was cited as one of the key reasons why Yorkshire was listed as the third region in the Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Travel 2014 – top 10 regions’, while The Times named The Hepworth Wakefield as ‘one of the top 50 galleries in the world’ – no small achievement for a new regional gallery located on the outskirts of a city centre.

We now enjoy one of the highest positive national press and social media profiles of any regional UK gallery, which is excellent news for the region’s image and brand. We’ve worked hard to become a very well-known Wakefield success story written about regularly in every national newspaper to create valuable tourism.

Cultural prowess and economic success are increasingly interlinked. Ambitious cities and regions see culture as a vital part of their economic strength, just look at how successful Manchester and Liverpool have been with culture-led regeneration.

The recent independent report ‘The contribution of the arts and culture to the national economy (2013)’ commissioned by the Arts Council and conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research was the first comprehensive analysis to determine the value of arts and culture to the modern economy on a national scale.

It concluded that arts and culture generate more per pound invested than the health, wholesale and retail, and professional and business services sectors.

It also found that at least £856m per annum of spending by tourists visiting the UK can be attributed directly to arts and culture. Our work at the gallery is a great investment for the region over the coming decades.

Our award-winning learning programme is a crucial part of the success of our charitable work carried out in the galleries and offsite in the community.

To date 87,036 family participants have participated in the free family drop-in workshops that run every weekend and during the school holidays. Our educational programmes have worked with 22,075 schoolchildren and 10,883 students in Higher and Further Education and we have supported 7,518 individuals through our outreach activities, working with communities and young people on arts projects and inspiring many to explore an art gallery for the first time.

Our Learning Programme has transformed people’s lives and aspirations in so many positive ways.

We always work to ensure our visitors return regularly. That’s why we have an energetic regularly changing, ambitious, year-round programme of exhibitions, shown alongside works from Wakefield’s Art Collection. In addition 1,200 works from the art collection have just gone online, so you can now access them from your own home as we develop our digital access.

Currently we have five temporary exhibitions featuring 18th to 21st century art, all in addition to the permanent displays of Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture. There’s always something new to see, enjoy and think about at the gallery, whatever your tastes.

Ensuring that Yorkshire becomes renowned nationally and internationally for its commitment to creativity is an important part of our mission. International, national and regional accolades and awards have helped us to put Wakefield on the map in a positive ambitious way. These have included: Winner of ‘The Clore Learning Award’ 2013 at the Museum of the Year Awards; Finalist, Art Fund Prize Museum of the Year Award 2013; Shortlisted, Stirling Prize for Architecture, RIBA Stirling Prize 2012, Winner of the ‘Arts and Culture Award’, White Rose Awards 2012.

Cultural partnerships and collaborations offer great public benefit in this challenging economic climate. We work to build and share our audiences within the region to ensure our work has the widest possible reach and a sustainable grounding that creates significant tourism. Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, our major partnership with nearby Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Henry Moore Institute and Leeds Art Gallery is positioning West Yorkshire as the European capital of sculptureby presenting a joined up programme for those visiting and living in the region.

We look forward to our first major exhibition presented in collaboration with Yorkshire Sculpture Park next year.

Our major international partners are also growing in recognition of our status.

The gallery has now earned ongoing investments from Wakefield Council and Arts Council England as our two major stakeholders. We work closely with them to deliver exactly what they need back from us, and so much more besides. Given the current economic climate this ongoing investment is never taken for granted and is indicative of the importance these stakeholders place on the role of culture in the identity and ambition of this region.

The value of culture is not only about economics, although the gallery makes a significant contribution to the local economy: it’s about quality of life, feeding our imaginations, nurturing and educating our children and improving

access to culture for all.

Since 1929 Wakefield has recognised that culture is a key part of what makes life worth living through the founding and development of its art collection. The ongoing power of culture is embodied in our two great Yorkshire artists Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore who are central to the gallery’s success.

We are wholly focused at the gallery on ensuring that our programme and activities remain sustainable. We are dedicated to continuing to develop and drive forward our own, self-reliant income streams through commercial activities such as event hires, weddings, and through our café bar and shop. I know that the launch of new fundraising initiatives will help meet any shortfall in support from our funders. We have built many fruitful partnerships and relationships withphilanthropic trusts and foundations, private individuals and businesses in the last three years.

The appointment of our new Deputy Director, Jane Marriott, who joins the team shortly from London’s Royal Academy of Arts (RA) is also part of our long-term fundraising strategy.

It’s testament to our success in Wakefield that we always attract the highest calibre of museum and gallery professional for every job here. A key member of the RA Executive Committee, Jane doubled the annual revenue contribution and raised more than £37million for one of the most significant capital campaigns in the Royal Academy’s history.

Retaining free admission is an ongoing national debate and one that I anticipate will continue for many years. We will continue to offer free access to our nationally important collection and international exhibitions programme, to ensure that The Hepworth Wakefield benefits as wide an audience as possible. Our visitors help to support the gallery’s work as charity through donations and we can double all new donations until June 2015 through our Arts Council England, Catalyst Arts funding.

It’s been an amazing first three years establishing our reputation with audiences and artists but our work has only just begun as our local, national and international reputation continues to grow.

Simon Wallis


The Hepworth Wakefield