Mind the gap: how to focus on your purpose in the arts

By Martin Vogel

gallery
Empty gallery.

A theatre won funding to improve its engagement with disadvantaged groups. It approached the challenge as the chance to spread the word about its work. But it discovered that to get the target groups through the doors, the work would need to change. What the theatre was doing from day to day turned out to be irrelevant to a section of the community it was meant to serve. This is an example of the gap that can occur between the way an organisation behaves compared to its avowed mission, one that provides the sense of purpose from a shared understanding among everyone who works in a company.

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How to lead digital strategy in the arts

By Martin Vogel


My friend and former BBC colleague, Jonathan Drori, has produced an interesting paper on how arts organisations can best use digital media.

It was produced for the Department for Culture and, having the misfortune to be published in the midst of the election campaign, will struggle initially to receive the attention it deserves.

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Learning from art: Gerhard Richter at the National Portrait Gallery

By Martin Vogel

Ella, Gerhard Richter
Ella, Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter’s portraits are confusing. He paints from photographs – some taken from family albums, others found in newspapers and magazines – and strips away the context that provides meaning. He wants to confound interpretation. Yet time and again the viewer is drawn back to the original context – the story behind the picture. For me, it is this tension between the banal surface and the complex reality beneath that makes his work interesting. An exhibition of 35 of his works at the National Portrait Gallery tells us something about the importance of stories in how we make sense of the world.

Richter’s subjects at first glance are beguilingly mundane: a woman with an umbrella; a young girl with a baby boy. The detail is blurred away and the images seem like familiar, suburban scenes – reassuring representations of a world we think we know.

On closer inspection one realises that the woman with umbrella is Jackie Kennedy and the picture portrays her in mourning for her husband. The girl and baby boy turn out to be Richter’s Aunt Marianne and Richter himself as an infant. While the painting was made in 1965 it is from a family image taken before the war. Aunt Marianne had had a psychiatric disorder and had been murdered by the Nazis.

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Learning from art: Roni Horn at Tate Modern

By Martin Vogel

you are the weather detail
You Are the Weather (detail), Roni Horn

Roni Horn is a contemporary artist who chips away at our certainties and presents a world which seems familiar yet turns out to be quite elusive.  It’s an experience to be commended to anyone who presumes to lead people or to understand the environment with which they are engaged.

An exhibition of her work is at Tate Modern.  It consists largely of sculpture and photography.  There is a great deal of repetition and variation on a theme and it’s easy to view the work quickly and think you have grasped it.  But it gets under your skin and eventually challenges your preconceptions, encouraging you to question perception itself.

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Why do people turn to the arts?

By Martin Vogel

The Angel of the North, Gateshead

Arts companies seem to be developing a healthy interest in the intrinsic benefits of the arts, if this week’s annual conference of the Arts Marketing Association is a guide. This seems slightly counter-intuitive. At a time when many companies are feeling the loss of public funding, you might expect the arts to intensify their focus on the public policy objectives which secure grants – such as their economic impact. Possibly, the more challenging financial environment is freeing the sector to think outside the box.

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