Simon Wallis: Artistic triumph that brings a wealth of opportunities

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IN times of austerity, the human spirit needs creative inspiration and fulfilment to successfully address economic and social challenges. Time and again, we’ve relied on the arts for providing us with hope and confidence when it might seem there can be little to feel buoyant about.

Britain’s cultural heritage industry has long been world-renowned. The visual arts in particular are one of Britain’s highest profile success stories, and they are a great one for Yorkshire too.

Crowds are flocking to the Royal Academy in London to appreciate the work of Yorkshire’s own David Hockney, and no doubt Damien Hirst’s exhibition at Tate Modern will be equally mobbed. These Yorkshiremen are two of the most famous living artists in the world. And two more of them, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, are a key part of The Hepworth Wakefield’s huge success. Within the first nine months of opening, the gallery has welcomed more than 410,000 visitors, far exceeding the initial first year target of 150,000. We’ve now become one of the most visited galleries in the country. This is good for the gallery, and for the profile of the region as its cultural tourism offer goes from strength to strength.

In its first year of opening, Wakefield Council estimates that The Hepworth will make a £10m contribution to the local economy and we have generated more than £4m worth of national and international publicity.

The Hepworth Wakefield swiftly attracted a major partnership with Tate, one of the world’s most successful galleries and brands, in recognition of our ambition and achievements. Our gallery was designed by Sir David Chipperfield and has already won several major design awards. These brands and partnerships matter. Regeneration and preparation for future growth cannot be about providing shopping centres, apartments and offices alone – culture has a huge part to play in establishing a city or region’s identity on a national and international stage. It’s also a crucial part of the well-being of our society, as galleries become thriving social-hubs.

The great Victorian museum builders understood the close connection between culture and commerce and the visual arts are now capitalising on that enlightened spirit.

Visitor numbers are crucial to our tourism industry and we need the ability to present a broad, convincing offer to tourists.

But it’s not just about tourism. The quality of the visual art sector’s learning provision with local schools and higher-education is world class too and plays a major part in raising aspirations. By working in partnership with headteachers, families and many public and private institutions, we deliver valuable programmes in the community that unlock further resources for public benefit.

It’s heartening to see the inter-generational activity that is fostered during a visit to The Hepworth Wakefield. Children are encouraged to express what is conjured up by their imaginations and as a result they develop a richer understanding of what artists reveal to us about our world and lives. We need to invest in the creativity of people to remain inventive, competitive and questioning, no matter what our profession or interests.

Our art collections in the North are something to treasure, and of which we can all be proud. Hepworth, Moore, Hockney and Hirst are all a vital part of our cultural heritage and identity.

Furthermore, most public galleries and museums remain free to enter. In times of austerity it’s important to enable this wide access to some of our most fundamental and significant cultural experiences. We’ve been gratified to find families having their first experience of a gallery or museum at The Hepworth Wakefield.

Being mindful of the challenging economic climate, The Hepworth Wakefield Trust works in a highly entrepreneurial spirit.  By working closely with our key partners, we deliver maximum measurable benefits to the region and community, helping ensure that Yorkshire continues to develop ambitiously as a major visitor attraction and a world-centre for sculpture.

In recognition of The Hepworth’s work we have now been long-listed for the Art Fund Prize, one of the major prizes in the gallery and museums world and won last year by the British Museum. We are the only gallery in the North to be nominated and we’re extremely proud of what has been achieved.

The £100,000 Art Fund prize offers The Hepworth Wakefield an opportunity to further develop its educational work and access to its collection. But the prize is really a celebration of all our art galleries and museums that foster knowledge, understanding, appreciation and inspiration through their programmes.

Yorkshire should be rightly proud of its cultural achievements and the part they play in making this county a world-class destination. Helping The Hepworth Wakefield win the Art Fund Prize will add to that superb offer for those of us that live and work here and those we want to attract to visit and relocate. The arts are a crucial part and proven contributer to ensuring our region’s continuing long-term economic success.

* Simon Wallis is director of The Hepworth Gallery.