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The Jerwood – a large, ugly, black building?

The Jerwood, and arts teaching at school, need a rethink

Tony Harrison,  a retired teacher, is less than enchanted with the Jerwood Gallery which he feels enshrines elitist values – though the break-up with the Jerwood Foundation offers a chance for a change of direction. HOT welcomes other points of view on this topical matter.

I’m a retired south London secondary school arts and crafts teacher who has lived locally for nearly twenty five years and came here, not by accident but through choice as I love the place.

I personally find the whole story of the Jerwood gallery and its opening on the beach at Rock-A-Nore deeply depressing. I am most suspicious of organisations that set up under the so called ‘charitable’ status; this includes private schools and organisations such as the Jerwood.

As with so many projects in this town, public consultation was very poor despite much public dissatisfaction at the time.

Secondly and most importantly to me as an art educator: art in our society, unfortunately, has become, for many ordinary people, a symbol of superior class, snobbery and wealth, of which they feel no part.

People feel disconnected from the arts and crafts for many reasons, but often because of a lack of education at school level, brought about by decades of cutbacks in our junior and secondary education system.

A complete lack of proper ‘hands-on’ serious apprenticeship training post 16 has not helped, not to mention the almost complete dismantling of further education for adults. How many working people can go and study at evening classes now for instance?

Art subjects suffering

Over emphasis on the ‘core subjects’ at school has led to the detriment of all art subjects. Craft, design and technology classes have replaced wood-working and metal-working with less skilled computer-aided lessons. Nothing ‘hands-on’ is valued as importantly any more and only lip service is paid to it.

It has actually been a totally political decision made to keep people in their right place and deny them an all-round education.

The result is the cultural death of our society. A general frustration in life and people feeling useless and disconnected. Post Brexit I suspect this will become even more so.

jerwood 350Why should a ‘good’ education be seen as something one receives through going to a private school or a ‘top’ university ? Education shouldn’t halt because you can’t afford to carry on.

Personally, when I look at the people running our country and acting as our constituency MPs, I can only think they have had a very flawed education and most certainly a culturally deprived background, despite attending such so-called ‘superior’ educational establishments as Cheltenham Ladies College for example.

So why should ordinary local people connect with a large ugly black building which pretends unconvincingly to blend in with the fishing boat community and their net huts? A building they didn’t ask for, which contains hugely expensive art works, that they don’t understand the relevance of.

This has been foisted on them by a group of people that have a vested interest, not in the educational advancement of ordinary people, but in acquiring property in top locations and making money through showing off their idea of culture to the few that can afford to walk through the gallery doors.

Sorry, where is the ‘charity’ in this? I don’t get it.

Do this, Jerwood

Hastings is such a great mix of people from all backgrounds. Cut the gallery fees, Jerwood, and you will pull the local people in.

Fill your walls with local people’s art works as well as already established  international artists. Get involved with ordinary folk. Have more connection with local schools, further education and youth groups. They are deprived and suffering and have been cut back to the bone by ill-educated callous governments for decades.

Renaming schools and calling them academies, rebranding colleges as universities has not worked, not even for those who invested their money and bought into the education system to run them for profit.

So if you want to make a real difference, Jerwood Gallery, throw open your doors, open free art/music/dance classes for kids, local youth and ordinary people. Educate the all, not just the few.

Cut the snobbery that surrounds art and art galleries and tell the Jerwood Foundation where to stick their over-valued, little-understood and appreciated art works. Offer your gallery space for free to poor artists. Broaden your own perspective. Perhaps you may become leading edge.

Break the mould! Be bold.


Posted 20:48 Sunday, Feb 17, 2019 In: Point of View


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Dr Philip Baker

    We have several events for local artists such as Coastal Currents. The emphasis seems to be simply making art to sell. Going to an art gallery is quite different and I want to see things in the flesh that I have not seen before. We have three good galleries along the coast and they are all refreshingly different, so why do you want the Jerwood to be more like the Towner. Our group visited both last year and the staff in both cases were excellent and very helpful.
    I think the Mark Wallinger installation last year was very innovative and thought provoking. To relate to the art we undertook a ‘project’ for a couple of hours that the gallery helped us with and without the staff we would not have been able to do so. We are not artists and most not art lovers. Nevertheless we all had a great learning experience.
    In the modern world people have become used to paying for an experience and being entertained. The idea that you need to put something in to get something out may not occur to many people. Even simply researching what you are going to see to better appreciate the experience may not be considered. I went recently to the Edward Bunce-Jones exhibition at the Tate Gallery and had a great experience, but I wish I had been better prepared.
    Yes, we have to pay, but in a market economy that is the way of the world. Also, I don’t understand how you can criticise the Jerwood for the countries education policy.

    Comment by Dr Philip Baker — Wednesday, Mar 6, 2019 @ 22:41

  2. Ms.Doubtfire

    And when you have finished reading the blow by blow accounts of this movement to Save Our Stade, click on the ‘Effigy’ – now that was something to see….!!!!!!

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Thursday, Feb 21, 2019 @ 16:35

  3. Ms.Doubtfire

    For the truth and nothing but the truth log onto where you will find some illuminating facts and figures which few may know about…

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Tuesday, Feb 19, 2019 @ 15:50

  4. sue gilbert

    I like the Jerwood as a building and the inside I think works well as a gallery. I have to agree that the work displayed inside is often obscure and dull to my tastes, and I went to art school and am an amateur art historian and blogger. If the Hastings gallery is to survive being separated from the foundation it definitely needs to become much more relevant to and inclusive of the people and the arts scene the local area.
    What Tony Harrison the says about the dismantling of arts education in the UK is entirely accurate and little short of an atrocity. Decades ago there was an art school in every town and art lessons in every school. People could learn and practice skills and aesthetic judgement and the whole country benefited culturally and financially. Now schools are exam machines and generations of people have been denied the right to be creative.

    Comment by sue gilbert — Monday, Feb 18, 2019 @ 10:35

  5. Keith Piggott (Icarus)

    Tony Harrison’s reservations about founding of Jerwood Gallery at Hastings reflect vocal opposition expressed in letters at the time, on multiple grounds I shared, not least moratorium on council tax in perpetuity for foreign tax-shelter ‘charity’ occupying foreshore.

    Albeit a very minor part of this charity’s investments in recognised artists’ came to Hastings, but do at least recognise that cultural fact even if the artists and works are unexceptional nor everyone’s taste.

    However, I depart from his class warrior political diatribes, also his inverted snobbery. As a grant student I luckily attended a fee paying public school, my art master Douglas Pittuck not only founded my love of the fine arts but saw several class mates become significant artists in their own right.

    Historically, private patronage always drove vibrant cultures that founded great art, such as the Renaissance. Individual passions, too, created great art sadly often overlooked in their lifetimes.

    Political dogmas naturally lead to State sponsored movements, we need only to look to the cultural ‘art’ admired by Stalin also Hitler.

    Artists must be free to express their ideas. As much as I deplore the
    works of Hirst, Chapmans, Emin, they have followers; admittedly less significant to me than the irrepressible and insightful ‘Banksy’ whose very first show was in my son’s London Dragon Bar.

    Yet I fully subscribe to Tony Harrison’s closing “Do this Jerwood”.

    Comment by Keith Piggott (Icarus) — Monday, Feb 18, 2019 @ 10:31

  6. Eileen

    Absolutely brilliant, I’m in complete agreement.

    Comment by Eileen — Monday, Feb 18, 2019 @ 10:22

  7. gill Metcalfe

    I applaud this article as a wake-up call. I agree that the Jerwood should give free admission, should welcome serious local art, should offer exciting programmes of low-price tuition. But in no way should it dumb-down quality. It should invite leading contemporary artists to exhibit, even though unconnected to Hastings. I do not agree that it is an ugly building: Architecturally it is an excellent gallery – a clever use of space. It has brought huge financial and social benefits as spin-offs.
    I also think that the whole business of “charitable” status for schools should be re-considered. Private schools are divisive and damaging to society as a whole. Bit let’s take care not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    Comment by gill Metcalfe — Monday, Feb 18, 2019 @ 09:23

  8. Ms.Doubtfire

    Such an honest article by Tony Harrison – it is rare to read such open and honest opinions on the history of this building. Mr.Harrison has summed up the issues with this art gallery so well – it was always seen as an elitist set up with little appeal for local people. Many saw this building imposed on them without meaningful consultation. For anyone who has the inclination to carry out a little research it would be a very good idea to look at the late Ion Castro’s website which he set up when the SAVE OUR STADE protest commenced. Ion outlined very clearly and honestly the reasons why this project was not welcomed here. Worth a read. And such a shame Ion is not around to tell us more. RIP Ion Castro – we miss you.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Monday, Feb 18, 2019 @ 08:57

  9. Saskia Hart

    I really like the building. I was afraid it was going to ruin that area, but I do think it has been done beautifully and sensitively to blend in with the surroundings, actually. When you are inside, I love the way the windows frame views of the sea front and the Old Town.
    I liked the actual Jerwood collection. I often don’t find the exhibitions interesting or convincing. I am afraid of what it’s going to be like in the future…
    (I’m fed up with things going pear-shaped in Hastings. Remember the people’s pier?)
    Well, that’s me putting in my tuppence worth…

    Comment by Saskia Hart — Sunday, Feb 17, 2019 @ 21:41

  10. Kay

    I think Hastings deserves some famous ‘canon’ works to consider – but there’s room in the Jerwood to take Tony’s advice as well – really short version of this: Jerwood, please strive to be more like the Towner.

    Comment by Kay — Sunday, Feb 17, 2019 @ 21:24

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