OBITUARY: PETER BRINSON - People - News - The Independent

OBITUARY: PETER BRINSON

Peter Brinson had had a varied and inventive career before he became Director of the Gulbenkian Foundation in Great Britain in 1972; but it was that appointment which best released his talents and brought him to international attention, writes Richard Hoggart.

From the moment of his appointment, Brinson wanted to develop the practice and appreciation of the arts, especially in places where they are most neglected: in remote areas, among ill-endowed communities, in schools where they had hardly penetrated. He seemed to see himself as an "animateur" in places where animation was greatly lacking. Above all, he looked for new ideas to break the old artistic and cultural moulds; and he was prepared to gamble on the gleam in a suppliant's eye rather than on evidence which would satisfy a cautious executive.

The word got around quickly and he was soon besieged by people with ideas for promoting this kind of community activity, this way of breaking the from-top-to-bottom model of communication in the arts or broadcasting or education. He moved restlessly all the time. He quartered the country, the continent, much of the globe in his search for new ideas and new people - and more often than not came back with a new enthusiasm or two. Many people, many aspects of the work he encouraged and many parts of the country have cause to be grateful for Peter Brinson's encouraging irruption into their lives.

Brinson thought it deeply wrong that the practice (not simply the critical study) of the visual and performing arts should find so little space in universities and polytechnics. He was not an academic himself but he respected the best academic practice as he saw it: he simply wanted academics to recognise that their institutions were running on only three cylinders if they neglected the arts.

So he spent many hours over a considerable number of years helping the Council for National Academic Awards devise courses on Movement and Dance; he worked with Surrey University on its extensive plans for Drama; he proposed to Goldsmiths' College that it undertake a large study on the Economic Situation of the Visual Artist - and, typically, funded that protracted work generously and uncomplainingly. Perhaps most striking of all, he initiated, financed and ran an impressive international seminar on the arts and society. The setting, a new university, was bleak; he took the chill away at the start by placing a bottle of sherry in each of the participants' rooms.

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