South Bank Centre unveils vision of its artistic future

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The Independent Online

They were among those named as artists in residence and new associates yesterday as the centre finally unveiled its artistic vision after years of being preoccupied with funding and redevelopment plans.

Michael Lynch, who joined as chief executive four years ago, said he was "thrilled" not to be talking about money or any of the different buildings which together form the South Bank Centre. He said: "We exist to create great art, to work with great artists and connect that work with audiences. Today is about art."

Jude Kelly, who took up her post as artistic director earlier this year, announced a programme in which the centre will be more proactive in commissioning new art as well as receiving outside productions.

Among those scheduled to appear after completion of the £91m refurbishment of the Royal Festival Hall next year, are Daniel Barenboim, who will perform all of Beethoven's piano sonatas, and the Ballet Boyz dancers, presenting a special gala.

The Hayward Gallery, which recently appointed a new director, Ralph Rugoff, is preparing the first full-scale museum show in London by the sculptor Antony Gormley. And the literature department will present a new London Book Festival.

Ms Kelly said: "Our intention is to make the South Bank Centre a far more open, hospitable, accessible and creative place - a bustling creative port at the heart of this great world city."

Her inspiration had been the original vision for the Royal Festival Hall which was built for the Festival of Britain in 1951 when a commitment to the arts was part of the optimism and imagination of an era which saw the creation of the welfare state.

"People who came to the Festival of Britain remembered it for the rest of their lives as a unique cultural destination. That should be our aim - to recreate that."

Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley of St Etienne, who are involved both as a cult indie band and with their film company Pilgrim Films, said they had been hugely influenced to take part by the evocation of the 1951 festival. "It seems like an opportunity to revive that sense of future and newness," Bob Stanley said.

Other figures from across the visual and performing arts worlds who will play a special role include the conductor Vladimir Jurowski, the composers Oliver Knussen and George Benjamin, the poet Lemn Sissay, and the Turner Prize-nominated Wilson twins, Jane and Louise.

Nitin Sawhney said he loved the South Bank Centre because it was the first place he performed as a solo artist. He said: "I'm very excited that they are open to things like this," he said.

Willie Williams, U2's lighting director, is helping set up a Light Lab, a lighting research centre for artists, cinematographers and lighting designers. "I've lived in London since 1978 and there have been decades of failed schemes [here]. But I think this is genuinely something different," he said.

Creative focus

1948 Labour government announces Festival of Britain as post-war 'tonic to the nation'

1951 Royal Festival Hall opened at cost of £2m as centrepiece of celebrations

1967 Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Rooms are added

1968 Hayward Gallery opens

1985 As the Greater London Council is abolished, the Arts Council takes over sites

1988 Royal Festival Hall is listed as a Grade I building

1994 Plans for restoration of Royal Festival Hall drawn up

2003 Hayward Gallery closes for nine months of restoration

2005 Royal Festival Hall closes for £91m refurbishment

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