Barbican chief condemns 'lazy' rival arts institutions

A withering attack on the state of the nation's leading cultural institutions has come from one of the most senior figures in the arts.

A withering attack on the state of the nation's leading cultural institutions has come from one of the most senior figures in the arts.

Graham Sheffield, artistic director of the Barbican Centre, in London, has broken with convention to launch an unprecedented attack on his colleagues. It is the first time someone that from inside the arts world has publicly alleged that weaknesses and unaccountability in world-famous institutions such as the National Theatre and Royal Academy were failing the public.

Even the Royal Shakespeare Company is not spared his criticisms. He complains that it does not make enough effort to present Shakespeare in a contemporary manner.

While leaders of the arts world have been able to shrug off recent attacks on the National Theatre and Royal Opera House as emanating from the media, this condemnation from a well-known arts figure working in the subsidised sector will be much harder to dismiss.

Mr Sheffield was appointed two years ago by the Barbican head John Tusa to run the arts side of the centre, and has succeeded in turning round its reputation with a distinctive artistic policy of contemporary work and experimenting with new collaborations.

Today he will announce a new season that will include an exhibition of contemporary American art and a Japanese festival featuring the director Ninagawa.

But Mr Sheffield complained that other leading venues seemed to have a much less clear idea of artistic policy and their weaknesses reflected badly on all the subsidised arts in Britain.

He also criticised the Apocalypse exhibition at the Royal Academy. "I would not dream of putting it on at the Barbican," he said. "As a concept it didn't add up. It was lazy and it wasn't apocalyptic."

About his former employer, the South Bank Centre, where he was in charge of music programming, he said: "I simply could not believe that last week they put out yet another masterplan for rebuilding the venue. We've had 12 years of these. What happened to the Terry Farrell one, the Richard Rogers one? How can they possibly be planning to build another concert hall when there's no evidence that they can fill it?

"You can get over-obsessed with the building to the extent that you forget what the bloody hell you're there for. I think the latest plan is bonkers ... Why aren't they doing the work on the Royal Festival Hall that needs to be done?"

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