Art galleries say lack of funding may lead to cuts

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NEW LABOUR'S favourite institutions are in revolt. Some of the trendiest art galleries in the country are to issue a joint statement complaining of severe under-funding and threatening to cut prestigious exhibitions.

The galleries are disgruntled at the way the Government's showpiece millennium art project, the new Tate Gallery of Modern Art at Bankside, has made it harder for them to raise money.

The complaints from 12 galleries, including the Serpentine and Whitechapel in London and the New Art Gallery, opening soon in Walsall, come at the end of a wretched week for Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Over the last few days Mr Smith has been criticised for failing to secure free museum admission for adults; because the Government spurned an offer from Sir Cameron Mackintosh to highlight the problems facing regional theatres; and, in a report by the Theatres Trust, for championing trendy art at the expense of serious theatre.

Though galleries are funded by the Arts Council, it is the Government that gives the Arts Council its annual grant and that has, as the galleries point out, enjoyed and trumpeted the success of the new wave of young British artists.

The statement today will say: "The galleries responsible for this development in visual awareness and attendant shift in cultural focus and that have organised great and often widely publicised shows are in crisis. While they managed to raise the credibility and professional status of artists, they themselves have suffered terribly from lack of funding, with directors, curators and their teams working long hours for little financial reward."

The 12 gallery directors say that it has become much harder to find private sponsorship and the Tate at Bankside could corner the market. Julia Peyton- Jones, director of the Serpentine Gallery, said yesterday: "The programmes that we do, the exhibitions we put on could be put into question."

Karen Wright, editor of Modern Painters magazine, said: "This is a blow for the Government. It's no good the Government shouting about their support for the visual arts but not supporting the institutions properly. And of course museums must remain free. The Government's arts policy will be judged on these issues."

In their statement the gallery directors add: "At present the historic under-funding of the visual arts is causing the galleries to be financially unstable. This will get worse with the arrival of Bankside and the increased competition for sponsorship. It is important, whilst welcoming the opening of Tate Modern, to bear in mind the possible implications of its considerable power to attract sponsorship and donations away from other, less high- profile organisations."

The Arts Council currently allocates pounds 5.9m a year to the visual arts; dance receives pounds 25m, drama pounds 29m and music pounds 46m, though in the performing arts there are national companies that eat up a large chunk of the grant. The gallery directors say that the visual-arts sector needs a further pounds 3m.

The gallery directors who have signed the statement are from the Serpentine, the Whitechapel, the Photographers' Gallery and Camden Arts Centre in London; the Ikon in Birmingham; the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford; the Arnolfini in Bristol; the John Hansard Gallery in Southampton; the Cornerhouse in Manchester; the New Art Gallery in Walsall; the Milton Keynes Gallery; and the Foundation for Art and Creative Technologies in Liverpool.

t Lord Foster, the architect who designed the proposed pounds 475m national stadium at Wembley, hit back at government criticisms of his designs yesterday.

"We looked at all the alternatives for incorporating athletics in great detail and left no stone unturned," Lord Foster said. "It will be a fantastic stadium in athletics mode."

Six days ago Mr Smith told the House of Commons that the stadium, "as designed, or in any similar configuration", would be incapable of staging an Olympic Games. Mr Smith based his comments on an independent report on the new Wembley compiled by the stadium experts Ellerbe Becket.

The secretary of state will now have to decide whether to accept that Wembley will be a suitable Olympic stadium or consider a second, separate stadium for athletics events.