Baltic centre left all at sea after second director quits

The Baltic centre for contemporary art has been plunged into uncertainty after its second director in two years quit the £46m gallery.

The Baltic centre for contemporary art has been plunged into uncertainty after its second director in two years quit the £46m gallery.

Stephen Snoddy, who took over when the founding director of the Gateshead gallery, Sune Nordgren, left less than a year after the official opening in July 2002, has also stepped down just 11 months after his appointment.

The move puts the Baltic in limbo as its chairman, Alan J Smith, a businessman, is due to retire in January after serving more than six years in the post.

Mr Snoddy said Baltic deserved continued success but running it had taken him away from his family in Manchester and he had decided he needed a better work-life balance.

"In the past year I have had the opportunity to be involved in some wonderful exhibitions, with some talented artists and have been privileged to map out a great programme through until 2006.

"I will be immensely sorry to leave, but feel with my young family growing up, I need to be closer at hand. I feel the time is right to reflect, take stock and to further my career nearer to home and family life." He said it was now his "dream" to open a contemporary art space in Manchester using both public and private financing.

He had been suspended from his post at the Baltic while the Metropolitan Police investigated an allegation of assault that was made against him in London and which was unconnected to the gallery. But last month the police announced that no action was being taken, on the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service, and he had been due to resume his duties earlier this month. His decision to resign meant he did not return to work.

Mr Smith said the gallery was "very disappointed" to be losing Mr Snoddy but supported his decision. "Stephen has been immensely enthusiastic about Baltic and articulating a vision for the future. On behalf of Baltic, we wish Stephen and his family the best possible future."

However, a second surprise departure at the top is destabilising news for a gallery that attracted enormous crowds in its opening months, but has not always convinced the critics or the accountants.

The gallery, which is housed in a converted 1950s grain warehouse, has no permanent collection of its own, but presents exhibitions of contemporary art through commissions, artists-in-residence and invitations to artists to show.

Its first director, Mr Nordgren, was criticised by some for concentrating on expensive and obscure - to British audiences - Scandinavian artists, while more popular exhibitions, such as Domain Field by Antony Gormley, are reputed to have cost the gallery hundreds of thousands of pounds.

A new business plan was imposed early last year amid allegations that budgets were being broken. But Mr Nordgren's resignation, to become the founding director of Norway's National Museum for Art, Architecture and Design, was said to have been unconnected to any financial problems.

Many in the art world welcomed the appointment of Mr Snoddy last December, after he had run a new gallery in Milton Keynes to some acclaim. Born in Belfast, Mr Snoddy, 45, trained as an artist before moving into arts management.

Janet Wilson, a strong Baltic supporter and mother of the former Turner Prize nominees Jane and Louise Wilson, whose work has been shown there, said she was really sorry he was going. "It's very sad that we've lost two directors in a matter of two years," she said. But the gallery had had some "really good shows".

The Baltic will remain a tempting though challenging prospect for other directors. The board of trustees will discuss Mr Snoddy's replacement at its next scheduled board meeting on 26 January, when it is expected to appoint a new chairman. Applications for that post close on Friday.

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