The Entrepreneurial Museum

Thursday 10th December 2015 – Oxford, England

In my capacity as Director of The Charleston Trust I was fortunate to be asked to be a judge – or ‘dragon’ as the terminology goes these days – on the Oxford Museums Partnership’s superb one day workshop The Entrepreurial Museum at Said Business School at Oxford University. 

The day was an ideal end-of-year ‘provocation'; an opportunity for participants from across the UK museum sector to re-think their operating models and re-imagine their systems and processes. To this end we were encouraged to continually ask the questions ‘why do we want to do this?’, ‘what is our end goal?’, ‘what is the demand?’, ‘how is supply happening?’, ‘what’s the gap?’ and ‘what will it take to meet supply and demand?’.

As ‘dragons’ my three colleagues and I were fortunate to have the combined brilliance of the course participants’ crowd-sourced solutions to real world challenges across our four organisations – whether around online ticketing solutions, managing with the ebbs and flows of visitor attendance, solving the challenges of external ‘PEST’ forces or how to maximise our investments in capital and human resources.

What was most rewarding though from this intense one day session was the abundance of creative innovation on display, a hugely positive sign of the resilience and sustainability of the UK museum sector.

Julia Margaret Cameron at the V&A

Friday 11th December 2015, London, England

Early in the morning I head to the Secretariat Entrance of the V&A for an out of hours tour of the Julia Margaret Cameron exhibition by Curator Marta Weiss for The Charleston Trust’s Omega Group donor circle. 

Weiss’ introduction to Cameron’s art, life and process is the ideal start to our private tour. Her explanation of Cameron’s almost immediate success on taking up photography in the early 1860’s, relatively late in her life, and the critical acclaim she attracted so quickly afterwards were fascinating. Just as interesting was Cameron’s self belief and justifiable confidence in her art, as was the perhaps less well known connection between Cameron and the South Kensington Museum, which was to become the V&A.

Henry Cole, the institution’s first Director was an early adopter of photography to the Museum’s collections and also a close mentor and advisor to Cameron. This superb exhibition, which is mid-way through an inevitable global tour, is able, as a result, to rely almost entirely on the V&A’s superb collection of Cameron’s work, as collected by Cole. 

As such it brings together Cameron’s early portraits of well known Victorian figures from her circle, such as GF Watts and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, of family friends and close acquaintances, and of her ‘Madonna Group’ portraits. In addition the exhibition aptly demonstrates Cameron’s ongoing experimentations (and indeed her mistakes) that were so key to her art and created some of which became her most admired work. 

Amongst her portraits are several of her niece and god-daughter  Julia Prinsep, who as Julia Stephen was to go on to be mother to Bloomsbury Group siblings Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf and Thoby and Adrian Stephen.

More information: Art Fund Review of Julia Margaret Cameron exhibition.


The Clock House

Monday 23rd November 2015 – The Hurst, Near Clun, Shropshire, England

On a visit to The Hurst, one of Arvon Foundation’s three creative writing centres, I was fortunate, as Chair of the Trustees, to have a glimpse of the sensitive transformation underway in the Clock House. 

Once used as accommodation for Arvon’s courses, the Clock House sits, detached, to one side of The Hurst, the former home to the playwright John Osborne and his wife Helen. The Hurst underwent a major capital transformation in 2014 with funding from Arts Council England, Foyle Foundarion and many other generous supporters and now features sixteen en-suite rooms for participants in Arvon’s tutored creative writing programmes. As a result, the Clock House, surrounded by Rhododendrons and with spectacular views across the rolling hills, has been empty for the last two years. However in March 2016 the Clock House will re-open as a dedicated writers’ retreat where authors can work to their own schedule whilst still being part of the Arvon community at The Hurst.  Once complete, the Clock House will feature four independent sets of rooms, each consisting of a study, bedroom and bathroom plus a series of communal spaces including a lounge, kitchen and dining room.


At the same time, across the water-meadow in front of The Hurst, the Dovecote, long abandoned, is being gently restored to its former glory.  Sitting in splendid isolation amongst The Hurst’s 26 acres in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Dovecote has long been in need of safeguarding. 

Touring the Clock House with the builders we came across the Dovecote’s magnificent wooden lantern (below) undergoing restauration prior to its reinstallation on the roof of the Dovecote. 


Watts Gallery

Monday 16th November 2015 – Compton, Surrey, England

I spent this evening in the glorious surroundings of the Watts Gallery for the private view and dinner to celebrate the  gallery’s new exhibition of drawings by Victorian masters Frederick, Lord Leighton and GF Watts. 

A revered local institution, the Watts Gallery was completely restored in 2011 under the leadership of Director Perdita Hunt. It is now in the next stage of its development plans, having purchased Limnerslease, the former home of George and Mary Watts across the lane from the Watts Gallery, which will open in January 2016 after an extensive programme of restoration.  Together the galleries, studio, exhibition space, artist’s home and nearby chapel present a unique context for understanding an artist’s life and work. 

The Watts Gallery is also a superb example of a great local arts institution with both national reach and the highest artistic standards of excellence, as seen in their recent exhibition on Richard Dadd and their current exhibition on the drawings of Watts and Leighton. Beautifully comparing the contrasting the drawing styles and artistic processes of two greats of the Victorian age, the exhibition provides valuable insights into the artist’s lives, long friendship and artistic inspiration. 

Watts Gallery’s inspired approach provides the rare opportunity to gain a holistic insight into an artist’s art, life and influences. 

The Banff Centre – Inspiring Art and Ideas

Monday 10th August 2015 – Banff, Alberta, Canada 

Nestled above the Bow River between Tunnel Mountain and the resort town of Banff in the Banff National Park is The Banff Centre, the largest ‘arts incubator’ in the world. According to their website, The Banff Centre plays host to 8,000 artists, researchers and leaders in the arts every year.

I’ve wanted to visited The Banff Centre for many years and whilst my latest visit to Banff didn’t coincide with any live performances, a visit to the stunning site gives an immediate sense of the vision behind the Centre. 

Over the decades since its inception The Banff Centre has grown into a globally recognised arts institution and a world-leading multi-disciplinary arts centre whose buildings juxtapose beautifully with the majestic backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. It struck me that here is a near perfect facility for the thousands of artists, leaders and researchers who visit every year and take inspiration from its programmes back around the world. 

The far-sightedness of both the Canadian Government and the regional government of Alberta in funding this facility is to be praised. Surely this is exactly the model that numerous creative economies, the U.K. included, should aspire to bring to fruition in their countries.


Cool Bookselling and Publishing in Iceland

Tuesday 4th August 2015 – Reykjavik, Iceland

Anyone who remembers the ‘Fabulous Iceland’ literature guest country programme that Iceland mounted at the 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair will know how much Icelanders love their literature, noir or otherwise.  Publishing Perspectives quotes Iceland as having more books per capita than any other country in the world and the BBC states that 1 in 10 Icelanders will publish a book. Nothing though had prepared me for the wonderfully innovative and intuitive bookselling in Reykjavik this week.

From the beautiful Eymundsson book stores across Reykjavik (and the rest of Iceland) to little book cafes like Ida Zimsen opposite the Art Museum of Iceland and bespoke gallery stores, Reykjavik is a veritable treat for book lovers and you don’t have to move very far before encountering another great book store, as Rosie Goldsmith found in her article for the BBC in 2013. 

From outdoor literary retreat benches where you can relax whilst listening to Icelandic literature by scanning in a barcode on your smartphone – as I found in the centre of Reykjavik – to a palpable sense of the joy of books, everything about the books and literature scene in Iceland seems intuitively geared towards encouraging reading for pleasure.  For foreign publishers, the Icelandic Literature Center has an extensive grants and funding programme to support Icelandic literature in translation and disseminate Icelandic literature globally. 

Whiling away hours in Icelandic bookstores over the last few days, I had the strongest sense since visiting bookstores in Taipei and São Paulo that the book is alive and well and a key part of national life.

What made the stores I visited so impressive was the sense of mixing intelligent bookselling with great coffee shops, superb merchandising, knowledgeable staff, excellent design and layout and a smart non book retail product range. Combine these factors with an international approach and you have stores that are appealing to locals and international visitors alike and appear effortlessly successful. 

Of course this is the briefest snapshot of the Icelandic book scene and not a thorough analysis but it was an invigorating literary experience and one I recommend to all book lovers.

David Cohen Prize for Literature

Thursday 26th February 2015 – The British Library, London

Thursday evening saw the announcement of the winner of the David Cohen Prize for Literature, given every other year to one of the UK and Ireland’s literary greats. Established in 1993, the roll-call of previous recipients is impressive indeed – VS Naipaul, Doris Lessing, Harold Pinter and Seamus Heaney to name but a few.

Tony Harrison, winner of the 2015 David Cohen Prize for Literature

Tony Harrison, winner of the 2015 David Cohen Prize for Literature

This year, the award of £40,000 went to the UK’s leading poet-playwright, Tony Harrison, who in turn – in one of the nicest twists to any of the major literary prizes – presented the Clarissa Luard award of £12,000, supported by Arts Council England and chosen for the encouragement of new work by the recipient of the David Cohen Prize – to the William Wordsworth Trust.

Two years ago, as then Chair of Booktrust, the prize’s administrator, I had the great privilege of toasting the recipient, Hilary Mantel after the event.  This year it was a joy to listen to Tony’s three beautiful readings, full of classical allusions, harsh reality and seering beauty. An inspired choice of winner by this year’s judges.

World’s Smallest Bookstore?

Monday 16th February 2015 – Cádiz, Spain

It is Carnaval in the ancient Andalusian town of Cádiz, once a Phoenician port and said to be Spain’s oldest continuously occupied town. During a stroll through the plazas of the beautiful old town centre to listen to the Chirigotas – satirical 7 to 12 person bands that attract large crowds when they play during Carnaval – we came across a bookstore that we had never noticed before (maybe due to its size).

Small (actually, very small) but perfectly formed, and sure to fit no more than one person at a time, the nameless bookstore, much smaller than many similarly designed bandstands of the period is no less elegant. This glorious little bookstore (or maybe more appropriately, bookstall) is perfectly attuned to the early nineteenth century glory of Plaza de Mina. If not the smallest bookstore in the world, it is surely one of the most beautiful in its minuscule beauty and perfect surroundings.

One of Cádiz’s finest squares, the Plaza de Mina in which the bookshop sits was built in 1838 and named after General Francisco Espoz y Mina, a hero of the War of Independence. The square’s previous incarnation was as the orchard of the Convent of San Francisco. At this time of year the plaza’s orange trees are heavily laden with (one presumes) the Seville oranges that might once have also graced the orchard. Sadly closed given the festivities I am determined to return to explore the bookstore’s very limited wares.


Charleston & EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize

Monday 9th February 2015 – Royal Academy, London

During the 25th Charleston Festival in May 2014, Paul Mason, Economics Editor of Channel 4 News delivered a superb first inaugural Keynes Lecture. At the end of Paul’s thought provoking lecture, I announced that Charleston, in partnership with EFG, would launch an international prize to celebrate and honour the radical, interdisciplinary nature of Keynes life and work, much of which took place at Charleston, and later just across the field, at Tilton.

Fast forward to Monday 9th February 2015 in the glorious surroundings of the Academicians’ Room at the Royal Academy where Charleston was launching its 26th Festival (15th to 25th May 2015). I had the great privilege to be able to introduce Dame Liz Forgan, Chair of the Judges of the Inaugural John Maynard Keynes Prize, who announced the first winner of the Prize, Indian Nobel Economics Laureate Professor Amartya Sen.

We are incredibly fortunate that Professor Sen will be able to deliver the second Keynes Lecture in person at the Charleston Festival on 23rd May 2015, where he will be presented with £7,500 to commission a work of art. Having heard Professor Sen interviewed in London in 2009 by then UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, I know his lecture, The Economic Consequences of Austerity will be stimulating, challenging and brilliant.

Charleston & EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize


Photo (c) Axel Hesslenberg on behalf of The Charleston Trust

The Bookseller Industry Awards

Saturday 14th February –

In 2013 I was asked to join the judging panel of The Bookseller Industry Awards, the UK publishing and book trade’s most important annual awards ceremony. Since then I have been fortunate to be invited back in 2014 and again for the 2015 awards, which take place at the Park Lane Hilton, London on 11th May 2015. The awards are a wonderful celebration of the creativity of book-selling and publishing in one of the world’s most important book markets by value and volume. The UK’s creative economy is world-leading and publishing leads the UK’s creative sector. These awards speak to the vast reserves of talent in the UK book trade.

The Bookseller Industry Awards