Godfrey Worsdale: Henry Moore believed art is for everyone – this is how we will honour his legacy this year

Sir Henry Moore as work began on a gallery in Leeds to celebrate his work.
Sir Henry Moore as work began on a gallery in Leeds to celebrate his work.
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THIS year is a landmark one for the Henry Moore Foundation. More than 100,000 visitors have been through the doors of the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds in the last calendar year.

Our purpose-built centre, which is next to Leeds Art Gallery, is part of the legacy left by one of the city’s most famous sons. Dedicated to the study of sculpture, we have enjoyed rising visitor numbers over the past few years and it all contributes to the positive trajectory we are seeing for visual art at a time when funding continues to be under pressure.

With a vast library and archive which houses the papers of some of our most influential artists, the Institute promotes the study of sculpture, a key aim of Henry Moore’s when he set up the Henry Moore Foundation in the later years of his remarkable career.

The Foundation, which now manages the Henry Moore Institute and the Henry Moore Studios & Gardens in Hertfordshire, was also set up to help make art accessible.

Moore believed art should be seen by everyone. His artwork can be seen in cities throughout the UK, Europe and the USA and although the Institute is not home to Moore’s artwork itself there are many pieces on show throughout his home county.

And what a county it is for sculpture. The Institute and Leeds Art Gallery make up one part of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle while a second element is The Hepworth Wakefield, home to the work of Moore’s contemporary and friend, the sculptor Barbara Hepworth. The third is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park which is one of the largest open air art venues in the world.

Here we see magnificent artwork from all around the world in the setting Moore himself preferred – in daylight and in nature. And, true to the spirit of accessible art, all three of these sites are free to visit.

We can see how the aims of the Foundation also mirror Henry Moore’s own life experiences. Aware that his career may have been quite different if it had not been for the support he received from others, the Foundation has, since its inception, been a grant- giving body.

In its day, the concept was as forward-thinking as the man himself and even today the organisation is viewed by its contemporaries as a ‘‘complete foundation’’; managing an important collection of Moore’s work; the artist’s former home; an incredible archive; a dedicated study centre; and a continuing grants programme. It remains an aspirational model.

To date, the Foundation has awarded grants of £35m to galleries, exhibitions and emerging artists worldwide. So many great exhibitions and artists have been supported by a grant from the Henry Moore Foundation that we decided to create a special award for the application which most represents the Foundation’s ideals.

Earlier this year saw the inaugural Henry Moore Exceptional Award shared between Whitechapel Gallery in London and Storm King Art Center in New York State.

In keeping with Henry Moore’s legacy, we are always looking for ways to bring sculpture and art to new audiences. We are extremely lucky to work with fantastic partners such as Leeds Art Gallery and Leeds City Council, who together run excellent schools and community programmes.

And we at the Foundation feel the Institute can help with this work, by bringing its unique expertise to the classroom. For the first time we have appointed an Engagement Curator who will be looking at ways we can inspire children and young people in the way Henry Moore was inspired as a schoolboy in Castleford.

We can help create viable pathways to the region’s great universities and perhaps to a career in the arts, while also opening up new learning experiences for all.

While the arts may be facing funding challenges, they are certainly not facing disinterest or a lack of appreciation for the incredible and diverse artwork we find across Yorkshire.

Audiences for sculpture in Yorkshire are particularly encouraging and continue to grow.

This will be further enhanced this summer when the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds Art Gallery, The Hepworth Wakefield and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park collaborate on the first Yorkshire Sculpture International initiative, which will raise the profile of sculpture in this fantastic county even further, bringing the work of many great international artists to our region.

Henry Moore believed art is for everyone and we will continue to find ways of spreading that legacy to the benefit of all.

Godfrey Worsdale is director of the Henry Moore Foundation.