David Lister: Bullying, 'efficiency' cuts – not your average year at the Tate

The Week in Arts
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What is going on at one of my favourite arts institutions?

First one reads that bullying and harassment of staff is rife; next it is reported that consultants have been employed to identify staff that can be made redundant as part of the cuts in the arts. This doesn't sound like my beloved Tate, a haven of civilised values, erudition and genius. Nor does it sound like the institution run by Sir Nicholas Serota, one of the most brilliant figures ever to have worked in the arts in Britain.

Something seems to have gone badly awry. Indeed, the mind boggles at what form this bullying takes. Though a sizeable percentage of Tate employees complain of having been bullied, there is no word yet of what this bullying consists of. One can only do what one is encouraged to do at the Tate, and let one's imagination run riot.

When staff at Tate Britain pause to gaze admiringly at a Stanley Spencer self-portrait, are they tapped on the shoulder by Sir Nicholas, and asked threateningly: "Who you looking at?" Is a warder who arrives a few minutes late for work at Tate Modern ordered, as some sick and sadistic torture, to decipher a Joseph Beuys installation by the end of the day or be sacked?

My hunch is that when we do eventually learn what form the bullying and harassment took, it will be less terrible than the words imply. And if it is a sobering thought that staff relations and management practice at arts institutions are not so very different from the rest of the world, it is also no huge surprise.

I am actually far more alarmed by the second revelation about the Tate. It is reported in this paper that two consultants have been employed, one in London and one at Tate Liverpool. Staff claim that they were employed to force through job cuts. The consultants themselves are not commenting on this claim, but one of them, Dee Candlin, says in her online CV that while working at the organisation, she achieved "effectiveness and efficiency goals". So we'll take that as a yes.

In a letter to The Independent yesterday, the Tate's deputy director Alex Beard said that the pair were not consultants at all; they were "project managers to support change programmes within the Gallery". Fascinating semantics, but it doesn't quite put the mind at rest.

I should imagine, or at least hope, that the last thing the Secretary of State for Culture had in mind when instigating cuts to museums and galleries' budgets was that consultants or even project managers be hired at some cost to find these "efficiency" savings. Next week the Tate holds its annual press conference and will run through the highlights of the year. Let's hope that it also finds time to put to rest the increasing concern and puzzlement not just of its staff but also of its many devotees. It's a polite request to the Tate's senior managers. I certainly wouldn't wish to harass them.

Wrong reason – and target – for a protest

It is hard to have sympathy with the people who all too predictably disrupted the Prom on Thursday evening by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and its conductor Zubin Mehta. Protesters shouted as the orchestra began to play, and the Radio 3 live relay of the performance had to be curtailed. Those who attended went to see a concert by one of the world's top orchestras and a conductor who actually merits the usually overused description "legendary". They are the reasons why Proms director Roger Wright programmed the concert.

The argument of the protesters that the orchestra is a propaganda weapon for Israel is frankly bizarre. How many of the audience actually left at the end thinking that as this was a sensitive reading of Bruch's violin concerto, the policy on the West Bank settlements must be correct? Are we really to start banning the music and art of countries whose regimes we disapprove of? It will be a mighty long list, and a punishment of the very people who can effect change for the better.

In that respect the protest was as naive as it was boorish.

Read the words, hear the sounds

Publishers have released this week the first ebooks with sound effects. We now have multimedia books that include rain lashing against a window in a Sherlock Holmes story and a Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice with china cups clinking in Mr Darcy's garden. One of the people behind the new technology, Peter Thiel, promises: "It's always exciting to witness the creation of a new form of media. The technology promises to captivate readers in a way that will seem intuitive in hindsight."

I'm less sure. Personally I prefer to leave the sound effects to my imagination, but if some readers find this technological advance makes them enjoy the books more, then fair enough. I just hope I'm not sitting on a train next to someone reading a sound-enhanced version of American Psycho.





d.lister@independent.co.uk

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