Obituary: Valerie Lloyd

Tim Bullamore
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:44

ALTHOUGH SHE battled with ill-health for many years, Valerie Lloyd's name became a byword in the arts for energy, imagination and creativity.

The most outlandish artistic proposal would often be met with one of her favourite phrases: "Let's do it!" Not everything came to fruition. And, of those projects that did emerge, not all succeeded. But, perhaps unusually for a patron of the arts, she was prepared to deviate from the safety and security of tried and tested formulae. Typically, and forthrightly, she would take the view that others could, would and should sponsor concerts of Beethoven, Brahms or Mozart. She would fund performances of music by John Adams, Jonathan Harvey or Steve Reich.

Her goal - to enable artists, actors and musicians to fulfil their ambitions and audiences to appreciate them - was realised in part in when she became managing director of Green Park Station (Bath) Ltd, a subsidiary of J. Sainsbury plc, in 1987.

A single-span terminal building erected in 1875 for the Somerset & Dorset and LMS rail companies, Green Park Station in Bath was closed as a result of Dr Thomas Beeching's butchering of the railways in 1966. A chance remark of Lloyd's in 1979 while driving past the derelict building with a local businessman, Jeremy Fry, led him to ask her for a report on what could be done with the former terminus.

As a result the station was restored by Sainsbury's between 1981 and 1986 as part of a land-leasing arrangement with the local council. Today it is home to shops, market stalls, offices and a brasserie. It also houses a fortnightly farmers' market, which was the first of its kind in Britain. Perhaps uniquely, Green Park Station's profits are invested entirely in the arts.

Although Green Park Station has not entirely fulfilled Lloyd's ambition for it to become a Covent Garden of the West, it has provided a refuge for impoverished artists, encouragement for disillusioned photographers, moral support for scribes suffering from writer's block, and financial support for the widest possible range of artistic endeavour. Its welcoming open space - where once engines whistled and belched forth steam - has housed contemporary art exhibitions, theatrical performances and even a dramatised performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion staged by Jonathan Miller. In May next year the area will be turned into a giant concert hall - albeit open to the elements on one side - for a rare performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No 8 with its full complement of 1,000 instrumentalists and singers.

Lloyd was invariably willing to venture where few sponsors would dare to tread. Contemporary visual art, adventurous or difficult music, and enlightened photography were all subjects close to her heart and to which she would willingly provide financial backing and carefully chosen words of encouragement. The Bath International Music Festival, Bath Literature Festival and the city's annual guitar festival were among the key beneficiaries of her largesse. She was also instrumental in cajoling charities and grant-making organisations, not least the Sainsbury family trusts, into supporting events - such as the first Bath Literature Festival in 1995 - to which her budgets could not stretch.

Above all else, Lloyd was a vociferous, persuasive and passionate advocate for the arts. With an enthusiastic and mischievous glint in her eye, she enjoyed provoking debate or stirring up controversy, if only to encourage those around her to challenge their perceptions of the arts. Her health permitting, few evenings were not spent at exhibitions, shows and performances.

Valerie Lloyd was born in Hereford in 1945, and after studies at Camberwell College of Arts and Goldsmiths' College, London, spent some time at the Slade film school. She later studied for an MA in the history of photography at the University of New Mexico while exploring the deserts of the south- west and west coast of the United States in an old Ford Mustang.

A spell as a lecturer at Coventry School of Art from 1969 to 1971, followed by work in the film department at the National Portrait Gallery (started by Roy Strong), led Lloyd to become curator of the Royal Photographic Society in London in 1978. The following year the collection moved, with Lloyd in tow, to the centre of Bath, where it remains today. During her time with the society she developed a keen interest in the work of Roger Fenton, the 1850s photographer who became the first secretary of the Royal Photographic Society. Her exhibitions of his work in 1979 and 1988 attracted particular acclaim.

The last 18 years of Valerie Lloyd's life were spent in an extraordinary range of freelance artistic endeavours, including contributions to several catalogues and books such as Photodiscovery (1980), 19th Century Photography (1984), The Art of Vogue Photographic Covers (1986) and Soviet Photography 1917-40 (1984).

Meanwhile, Lloyd curated numerous other exhibitions around the country, devised and wrote a six-part television series, Images, for Channel 4, and was a consultant for arts projects in settings as diverse as Spitalfields in London, Wolverhampton, and Montgomeryshire in rural Wales. Thanks to her specialist knowledge of photography she was called as an expert witness by the courts on several occasions, and in 1990 she was briefly director of the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol.

In the early 1980s Lloyd gradually became involved in an ever wider range of arts organisations. She was a leading light in the Bath Arts Association, which at that time arranged the city's fringe festival, and served on committees for Yorkshire Arts, Southern Arts, the Hayward Gallery, and the visual arts panel of South West Arts.

One of her pet projects was the f.Stop gallery, of which she was a member for many years and for which she proudly found a refuge at Green Park Station. This was an organisation for photographers, usually young and radical, who often wished to experiment or challenge the established norms of the medium. She battled intensely, some said erroneously, to prevent the impecunious and maverick f.Stop from being consumed by the Royal Photographic Society, saying: "It would kill the whole spirit of f.Stop." To her dismay it finally closed last year.

Valerie Lloyd, photographer, historian, curator and patron of the arts: born Hereford 3 August 1945; died Bath 3 September 1999.

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