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Open Letter to Southbank Centre from British Art Show 9 Artists (London, UK)

August 30, 2020

We write as artists taking part in British Art Show 9, a major touring exhibition of contemporary art in the UK that will open in Wolverhampton before travelling to Aberdeen, Plymouth, and Manchester in 2021/22. This exhibition is organised by Hayward Gallery Touring, part of the Southbank Centre, Europe’s largest centre for the arts. We write to condemn the Southbank Centre’s plan to make almost 400 staff redundant across all departments, including 37 of 38 front of house staff at the Hayward Gallery.

These redundancies will affect 63-68% of the Southbank Centre’s workforce, disproportionately impacting the most disadvantaged and precarious: the largely young people, Black and POC members of staff, and people with disabilities who make up the lowest paid strata of the institution. For a detailed description of the situation, and a thorough assessment of the Southbank Centre’s responses, we refer to https://saveoursouthbank.com.

British Art Show 9 is framed around the key categories of ‘healing, care and reparative history; tactics for togetherness; and imagining new futures’. With this in mind, as artists contributing to this exhibition, as workers affiliated with the Southbank centre, and many of us directly affected by similar actions at other institutions, we refuse to separate the actions of the Senior Leadership Team at Southbank Centre from the work we are being asked to perform. We refuse to remain silent as these brutal and unnecessary cuts are rolled out. We stand in solidarity with all members of staff directly affected.Arts institutions espousing the politics of anti-racism, class mobility, queer struggle, disability activism, social justice, and the work of liberation must embed these politics within their structures, and not just present them as topics of exhibition or performative statements.

These organisations have a responsibility to represent the public interest and an accordant duty to their staff. It is unconscionable that in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, and the climate of stress, economic uncertainty, and insecurity that accompanies it, the Southbank Centre and other large arts institutions are abandoning huge swathes of their workforces. These actions blatantly contradict their stated aims and purposes.We reiterate the demands of PCS and Unite in asking that the Southbank Centre uses the Culture Recovery Fund to pay full redundancy agreements for all affected staff.We question the decision not to re-open the Southbank Centre site until at least April 2021 (with the exception of Hayward Gallery, which provisionally reopened to the public on Saturday 1 August for a maximum of three months).

This decision means that this major cultural space, so closely linked to the post-war vision of cultural access for all, is very visibly deemed to be unimportant, and the public are denied its spaces and its resources. If the Southbank were to be open now (as many cultural spaces are, with creative solutions to public health needs) we suggest these redundancies could be mitigated, as work, footfall, and engagement would be possible, if greatly changed. Furthermore, when the Southbank Centre reopens officially in 2021, it will operate with an entirely new operating structure. According to senior management only 10% of its full capacity across its venues will be used for the arts and the other 90% will be reserved for rental!

This shows the undue influence of neo-liberal tactics on the future of the Southbank and public art venues in the U.K in general, by putting profits before people!We decry any institution in which senior staff make annual salaries over £100,000 (and according to Southbank Centre’s 18/19 annual report, their Chief Executive’s salary and bonus subject to tax totalled £240,750) while instituting mass redundancies.

We insist upon an art world that respects, honours, and protects its workers.

Simeon Barclay

Oliver Beer

Zach Blas

Kathrin Böhm

Maeve Brennan

James Bridle

Helen Cammock

Jamie Crewe

Sean Edwards

Mandy El-Sayegh

Mark Essen

Daniel Fernández Pascual

Gaika

Beatrice Gibson

Patrick Goddard

Anne Hardy

Celia Hempton

Andy Holden

Joey Holder

Marguerite Humeau

Lawrence Lek

Ghislaine Leung

Paul Maheke

Elaine Mitchener

Oscar Murillo

Grace Ndiritu

Uriel Orlow

Hardeep Pandhal

Hetain Patel

Florence Peake

Heather Phillipson

Joanna Piotrowska

Abigail Reynolds

Margaret Salmon

Hrair Sarkissian

Katie Schwab

Alon Schwabe

Tai Shani

Marianna Simnett

Victoria Sin

Hanna Tuulikki

Alberta Whittle

Rehana Zaman

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