An arts society formed in the borough 150 years ago faces an uncertain future as it has emerged that after spending more than £41m on refurbishing the Fairfield Halls, in a display of incompetence stunning even by Croydon’s usual standards, the council have failed to provide any gallery space. Our arts correspondent, BELLA BARTOCK, reports
Croydon Council has managed to spend £41million on refurbishing the Fairfield Halls arts centre but now it emerges that the venue has nowhere suitable or dedicated to displaying art.
That’s the shocking – and cringe-worthy – discovery of the award-winning Croydon Art Society, who are currently staging their 130th annual exhibition in the Clocktower, next to the Town Hall, but whose shows of their members’ works face an uncertain future with nowhere to hang their paintings or display other forms of art and crafts.
Anthony Waldbaum, the chair of the Croydon Art Society, has been told that the Fairfield Halls cannot accommodate the Society’s twice-yearly exhibitions, and with changes to come at the Museum of Croydon and Croydon Clocktower, they will not be able to exhibit their members’ work there from 2020, either.
From next year, the Museum of Croydon is planning on running displays for three-month durations only – far too long to be practicable for the Croydon Art Society, an organisation which depends on finding volunteers to staff the front desk at such events.
The Fairfield Halls, of course, used to have a dedicated art space, the Arnhem Gallery.
That was until the venue was closed for refurbishment in 2016. Then the arts complex was handed over to Brick by Brick, the council’s loss-making house-builders with no track record in refurbishments of large venues, and to south coast conference organisers BH Live, to oversee the venue’s arts programme.
Nearly 18 months late and at least £11million over budget, the Fairfield Halls re-opened in September, the promised works unfinished and incomplete, with the Arnhem Gallery now replaced by what the venue management decided was a good idea to call “The Wreck”.
It is what they describe as “a new 750-capacity gig space” – another drama and live music venue in addition to the existing Concert Hall and Ashcroft Theatre.
There have already been some issues, unspecified by the venue management, around The Wreck which saw one of its first concerts, due to be staged earlier this month, cancelled at barely a week’s notice.
According to the Fairfield Halls’ own website, they have bookings for just nine events in The Wreck between now and June 2020.
The council, and BHLive, have gone to considerable lengths to offer offices and performance studios to meet the needs of theatre groups from outside the borough. If there ever was any real consultation over what arts groups actually based in the borough – such as the Croydon Art Society, which has been around since 1869 – the failure to create a dedicated art gallery appears to be a glaring, multi-million-pound omission.
In the plans for the refurbished Fairfield there was the promise of a gallery for figurative and visual art forms, to be built in what used to be the Halls’ underground car park (there is currently no car parking space at the Halls, a factor which Inside Croydon understands has rendered it unsuitable for some exhibition organisers).
Croydon Council even pitched for and received a £14million grant from quango Coast2Capital, which included £4million earmarked for the subterranean art gallery.
The recently bankrupted Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, the former owner of the Rise Gallery and council CEO Jo Negrini’s favourite art dealer, was widely believed to have been offered the sweetheart deal of running the prestigious new arts space.
But that gallery was never been built. Inside Croydon understands that none of the public money provided in the grant to build the gallery has been returned.
More than two months since the “grand re-opening” of the Halls, in the presence of Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, amid the builders’ rubble and bare electrical cables, the Halls’ finally opened its new café last Saturday.
The Fairfield café has bare walls and a studio space which might be suitable for art exhibitions, but there are “no plans at the moment” for such displays, according to those who have visited.
The Halls’ foyer has been staging a small exhibition of photographs linked to the Windrush generation, but the lack of any proper gallery space is another piece of laughably poor planning in the half-cocked refurbishment project. It all goes to make another lie from Tony Newman – that the Fairfield Halls is “south London’s largest arts centre” – ring even more hollow.
The Croydon Art Society has written to Ollie “Oliver” Lewis, the council cabinet member for butt plugs and shit shows, about the lack of suitable exhibition options at the Clocktower under the Museum’s new regime.
According to a source at the Society, “We have been offered the back space at Fairfields but have not had the opportunity to view or review this offer yet.”
There was due to be a committee meeting this week to discuss the options.
This week, Clark sought to intervene over the issue of the lack of gallery space, though not on behalf of the Art Society to secure them a viable venue for future exhibitions, but “to ask if what you’ve been told is accurate”.
Clearly, covering his or his council bosses’ arse is always the priority.
Clark wrote on social media that he “was extremely concerned” about the lack of gallery space suitable for the Croydon Art Society, claiming that “Fairfield Halls is willing to exhibit their show”.
The veracity of that claim can only be proven with time. Though whether such exhibits take place in a state-of-the-art, multi-million-pound gallery space, or in a bike shed round the back where smokers slip out for a quick vape, remains to be seen.
- The Croydon Art Society’s 130th annual exhibition continues at the Croydon Clocktower until December 7. Click here for more details
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