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Jane Marriott paints a picture of her new life as deputy director of The Hepworth Wakefield

PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 January 2015

Jane Marriott - deputy director of The Hepworth

Jane Marriott - deputy director of The Hepworth

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'I had worked in London for 20 years and there were only a handful of galleries I was prepared to move for. The Hepworth Wakefield was one of them.'

The Hepworth Wakefield  a transformative force in the life of the West Yorkshire cityThe Hepworth Wakefield  a transformative force in the life of the West Yorkshire city

High praise indeed from Jane Marriott, who has joined the West Yorkshire gallery as deputy director after an extremely successful six-year stint as director of development at the Royal Academy of Arts, where she doubled the annual revenue contribution and raised more than £37 million.

But should we really be surprised that she chose The Hepworth Wakefield? Yes, it’s still a relative newcomer to the industry, opening in 2011, but it’s enjoyed a positive landslide of praise since and has developed an astonishingly high profile as one of the finest contemporary art museums in Europe.

It smashed its initial annual visitor target of 150,000 within its first six weeks, and has since powered through the million mark. The gallery was also cited as one of the key reasons why Yorkshire was listed at number three in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2014 top ten regions, while The Times named it ‘one of the top 50 galleries in the world’.

So, if we’re not being unduly immodest, perhaps we should be asking why it took Jane so long to move here. But, then again, she has been pretty busy.

The Hepworth family gift gallery  an important part of the permanent collectionThe Hepworth family gift gallery  an important part of the permanent collection

She’s worked in the arts sector for nearly 20 years: in arts marketing for leading publisher John Wiley & Sons; as a senior arts consultant at Kallaway, advising corporate clients on sponsorship and communication projects with the British Museum, National Theatre and National Gallery; playing a critical role in the highly successful opening campaign for Tate Modern; and, of course, as a key executive committee member at the Royal Academy, where she directed the opening of the Keeper’s House and launched its first ever international strategy in Asia.

In her new role at The Hepworth Wakefield, she now works closely with director Simon Wallis to further realise and develop the gallery’s ambitious artistic, educational and commercial plans. Her palpable enthusiasm for the task at hand is a clear indication that she doesn’t regret her move north, but when did she first realise there was something exciting happening in an eye-catching concrete block by the side of the River Calder?

‘Everyone in the arts really started to take notice when The Hepworth announced its incredible visitor figures,’ said Jane. ‘But, to be honest, I think the very first indication that this was a gallery to watch was when the council had the vision to choose architect David Chipperfield to design it. He’s very well-known now but then he hadn’t designed a large-scale project in the UK.’

Jane is originally from the North East – ‘Newcastle way’ – and her sister lives in Beverley, but she admits she only really knew Yorkshire by reputation before moving here. She currently rents a house in Boston Spa with her husband, a freelance graphic designer, and their six and nine-year-old sons – the eldest of whom is already showing a real talent for art.

A shoot for Life Magazine in 1970 captures Lynda Benglis in action (photograph: Henry Groskinsky)A shoot for Life Magazine in 1970 captures Lynda Benglis in action (photograph: Henry Groskinsky)

‘He’s got a very good eye,’ said Jane. ‘But as a parent, you can’t push it. They have to find their own way.’

She was a keen artist herself as a youngster and took A-level art at school before moving on to a history of art degree, but now channels her creative urges elsewhere.

‘Thankfully I realised pretty early on that I didn’t have the talent to take it further,’ she said. ‘Now my creative outlets are gardening and singing. When my husband and I finally settle somewhere permanent in Yorkshire, we’re looking forward to creating our perfect garden.’

In the meantime, she’s got her hands full at The Hepworth, where she’s keen to build membership support by at least doubling numbers (there are currently 400 members paying £30 each a year), while also increasing repeat visits (currently running at 40 per cent); studying audience segmentation to understand who visits the gallery and, even more importantly, who doesn’t; and expanding the already impressive education and outreach programmes.

To date, around 90,000 people across the age spectrum have taken part in The Hepworth Wakefield’s free family workshops, its educational programme has engaged with more than 30,000 schoolchildren and students and more than 7,500 people have received support through its outreach activities.

‘I find it particularly encouraging when you see people from the local community enjoying cross-generational visits, with grandparents bringing along their grandchildren and both generations
getting something from their time here,’ said Jane. ‘It’s vitally important that we show the next generation that galleries
are relevant to them and that art is an exciting medium.

‘We also have to keep asking ourselves “what can we do as a gallery to make a difference?”. To answer that, we have to keep reaching out to the community and actively help to raise aspirations.’

There is undoubtedly a real sense of pride and ownership emanating from Wakefield towards its award-winning riverside gallery, but Jane believes there is still room for improvement and expansion.

‘We have a wonderful building here that works very well, but I want to look at how we can develop the wider site and lessen our feeling of geographical isolation from the rest of town,’ she explained. ‘We don’t have the resources to develop all the other buildings on site ourselves, but we can work with like-minded partners to create a real destination space. At the moment, The Hepworth is somewhere you come for two or three hours, but we want to make it a full day out.’

Running a modern gallery, like running any successful business, revolves around marketing, fundraising and partnerships. But it’s not all about economics. Yes, it helps if exhibitions make money, but not all of them have to. Balancing currency and creativity, it seems, is key.

‘Galleries have to be more commercial while retaining their credibility,’ said Jane. ‘Thankfully, we have built an enviable reputation in a very short time-frame, which means lenders are actually queuing up to exhibit.

‘The Hepworth is such a great space that exhibitions are guaranteed an audience. And it offers a much-needed chance to escape the crowded marketplace of London, giving art-lovers the chance to breathe and enjoy the freedom.’

For current exhibition details, visit hepworthwakefield.org, email hello@hepworthwakefield.org or call 01924 247360.

Going beyond

The Hepworth Wakefield presents the UK’s first museum survey of work by feminist icon Lynda Benglis from February 6th to July 5th.

This highly anticipated show will be the largest presentation of her work in the country, featuring around 50 pieces that span her prolific – and continuing – career. Aged 73, she is one of America’s most significant living artists; heralded as the ‘heir to Pollock’ by Life Magazine in 1970 and counting Andy Warhol, Sol LeWitt and Barnett Newman among her friends and peers.

‘I just wanted to go beyond and create something that was visually more,’ Benglis said of her earlier work. ‘I was interested in excess, buoyancy, weight, gesture of material. It was very different from abstract expressionism.’

She continues to take a unique approach to form and unconventional materials and her recent ceramic and polyurethane works will be on display in Wakefield alongside several moulded paper works on public display for the first time.

Benglis has divided her time over the last 50 years between studios in New York, Santa Fe, India and Greece. Drawing on the significance of place and landscape in her work, the exhibition layout will be geographically-defined, echoing the influence of each studio and locality on her art.

‘Being the first UK public institution to explore in-depth the work of this remarkable and influential artist is testament to the ongoing ambition of our programme.

‘While Benglis might not yet have achieved the widespread attention of her male counterparts, this exhibition will address the imbalance, allowing our audience to discover the work of this significant and inspirational artist for themselves.

‘Benglis’ work will create an unforgettable experience in our beautifully designed gallery spaces.’

:: For details, visit hepworthwakefield.org, email hello@hepworthwakefield.org or phone 01924 247360.

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