Welcome to this fortnightly edition of TaitMail from the Arts Industry
Wednesday November 6th 2013

Gib, Al and Kev

What leaps to the mind at the mention of Gibraltar? Rock. Rock apes. Spain’s border.  What doesn’t even creep in is “culture”. But that is about to change, if what happened on the last weekend of October is anything to go by. I was there, in 25 degrees of sunshine, for the first Gibunco Gibraltar Literary Festival, about which AI will carry a longish report next time. But Gibraltar is, in contrast to the rest of Europe, wealthy with an annual GDP growth of approaching 10%. It has a population of 30,000 but 10m tourists a year, most of them passing through to take advantage of the zero rate VAT. But the Rock wants them to stay longer, three nights maybe, and for it to be a destination for the literate, a cultured pearl in the Med. So they invited the organisers of the Oxford Literary Festival to have a go there. It was a resounding success, well sponsored, well patronised, and with a quality line-up including professors such as Norman Stone and Anthony Beevor, serious writers like D J Taylor and Joanne Harris and cooks like Ken Hom and Madhur Jaffrey – because food is the great lingua franca even ahead of music. No great literature has come out of Gib, at least not yet, there’s no theatre or art gallery, and the history of the place is largely military, but history is the past. Now, says its chief minister Fabian Picardo, it wants to be a cultural crossroads, at the point where Europe joins Africa and the Mediterranean becomes the Atlantic. And he wants to welcome Gib's Spanish neighbours to the cultural melting pot, too – provided they remember that this is, and ever will be, the British Community of Gibraltar. It’s an annual event, so look out for it next in November 2014, and go.
A very excited Alistair Spalding has announced that he’s going to open a new dance theatre, a baby sister for his Sadler’s Wells. He doesn't know where it will be, what it will be called or even how much it will cost. He just knows that it will happen and it will open in late 2018 (or, he allows, early 2019). Spalding has become the Merlin of contemporary dance in this country. Ten years ago it was an awkward little beast, confined to The Place off the Euston Road, kept on short commons in terms of audience and effectively disregarded by arts funders. There was no sponsorship, and Sadler’s Wells was even thinking about going in for opera to make up the numbers. But he waved his magic wand and in those ten years he has not only doubled the audiences at Sadler’s Wells for contemporary dance, he has made it not only acceptable but in demand across the country, and the cities that used to be the global centres for the art form, New York and Paris, are trailing London now.  But while his main house as 1500 seats, the Peacock he now has down by The Strand 1,000, and the Baylis Studio in Rosebery Avenue has 180-odd, there isn’t the 500-seat “black box” that contemporary dance makers need, to try out and present the truly edgy stuff. In any other orbit, to talk as he does about ambitions for a new venue would look like pie in the sky. Coming from him, it’s a cake he knows he will be able to have and eat.
Great news that the Stubbs paintings of a kangaroo and a dingo have been saved for the nation – as featured in AI a couple of months ago. The National Gallery of Australia is furious – they’d bought the pictures fair and square and lost them after an export stop was put on them to allow the National Maritime Museum to fund raise snatch them from the NGA’s grasp. They were gutted. And it must have been an ambivalent moment for the triumphant director of the NMM. He is Kevin Fewster, born in Perth, Australia, 60 years ago on December 1 and holder of the Order of Australia for his work in Australian museums and galleries.

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