Marc Steene and Simon Martin are relishing the prospect of their first full year in charge at Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery.
The two, both with long years of service at the gallery, were appointed to the newly-created post of co-directors late last year following the departure of director Greg Perry after just a few months in charge.
Greg’s leaving was described by the gallery as being a ‘mutually-agreed stepping down’ after he had completed the ‘change programme that he was hired to effect’. However, no-one willing to say why Mr Perry’s wasn’t the long-term appointment he himself obviously thought it was going to be when he arrived.
Neither Marc nor Simon are the ones to answer the questions. Both are keen to move on – particularly as both bring huge enthusiasm to the task before them.
Crucially, it’s an enthusiasm backed up by the kind of in-depth knowledge of the gallery which comes from their years on the staff.
Simon was the head of collections and exhibitions for several years, principally responsible for the many successful exhibitions which the gallery has shown since its re-opening in 2006. His role now becomes that of artistic director with a continuing responsibility for the exhibitions the gallery will stage.
Marc was in charge of the gallery’s learning and community involvement, including the launch and development of the award-winning Outside In programme. He will draw on the experience in his new role as executive director.
The point is, as Simon says, the trustees have invested in the existing staff: “My role will be looking at the programme of exhibitions and events and the collection. That has been one of the prime generators of our activity within the gallery, particularly in terms of putting on exhibitions that draw on the strength of that collection. I will be very much focused on leading that activity, while Marc will be looking at learning and community.”
Marc said he saw his and Simon’s appointment as putting side by side the two main activities driving the gallery’s strength and reputation.
As for Greg’s tenure: “We learnt a lot, and the gallery has learnt a lot. I think he did very well. What he did was very successful. I can’t say anything more than we have said. Greg left us because there was a mutual parting of the ways..”
Simon is delighted at the continuity he and Marc can offer; as Marc says: “I think we have a very strong reputation with the work we do in the local community. In the nearer future, one of our aspirations will be to further develop working relationships with other organisations.”
Open days are already the gallery’s way to try to encourage different audiences to step inside: “There are certain attitudes around galleries that people might not feel comfortable with, but we have done a lot of work to address that so that people do feel welcome.”
The gallery welcomes more than 1,000 visitors a month and around 3,000 schoolchildren a year. It boasts around 250 volunteers and 4,000 Friends.
However, Marc confirmed that abolishing admission charges, once a key hope, remains unlikely: “Given the current economic situation and the fact the gallery needs to be a successful business first and foremost, I think free entry in the short term is not something we are going to be able to achieve.”