Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 26 April 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs
Crawford Art Gallery: Chairperson Designate
We are here to discuss the nomination of the chair designate of the Crawford Art Gallery. I welcome Ms Rose McHugh to the meeting. Tá fáilte romhat.
I wish to draw the attention of the witness to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I wish to advise the witness that her opening statement and any other documents she provides may be published on the committee's website after the meeting.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I call Ms McHugh to make her opening statement.
Ms Rose McHugh:
I thank the members of the committee for this opportunity to speak to them about my proposed appointment as chairperson of the Crawford Art Gallery. I was appointed to the board by the Minister on 15 March and I am appearing here relatively new to that position. As the members have a copy of my submission, I propose to give them a brief outline of my background, go through my six priorities and take any questions they may have.
In terms of my background, I am a chartered accountant. I am qualified in taxation and I have a law degree and an MBA from University College Cork, UCC. I have spent more than 30 years working at a senior level in the financial and commercial sector. I have significant board experience and I am now a full-time non-executive director. I currently serve on a number of boards, including one of the financial services regulated by the Central Bank, a company listed on the Stock Exchange, leisure companies and voluntary companies. I have served on the boards of semi-State companies. I was chairman of Bord Iascaigh Mhara for two terms and I also served on the board of Bord na Móna. In addition, as part of my role, I served on a number board subcommittees covering the areas of finance, audit, legal, nominations, remuneration and pensions - essentially, the full ambit. That experience together with my legal and commercial experience gives me an excellent understanding and appreciation of corporate governance and I hope that experience will enable me to make a valuable contribution to the corporate strategy and to good corporate governance in the organisation. From what I have seen, it is very well set out in that regard.
I have always had a keen interest in culture and, in particular, in the visual arts. I am from Cork and I live there. I have had no dealings with the Crawford Art Gallery before last month apart from being a regular visitor to it. I have always admired the role it has played in the development of the visual arts in Cork. I look forward to playing my role in leading the Crawford on to the next stage of its journey. That is a brief outline of my background.
I have six immediate priorities and I am sure new ones will evolve. In the month since I have taken on this position, these are what I consider to be the six key priorities. The first one relates to the building. I do not know if any of the members have visited the building. It is a beautiful 300 year old building in a superb location in the city centre. It has great character.
mAs the members have a copy of my submission, I propose to give them a brief background ofmyself and then go through my six key prioirites and then take any quesitons that they may have. I am a Chartered Accountant, qualified In taxation, and have a law degree and an MBA from IJCC.
It is a lovely red-brick building but like any building that is 300 years old, there are issues with it.
The art collection of the Crawford began in 1819 when we received 100 sculpture casts from the Vatican Museum. They have been housed since then in this old Custom House built in 1724. The building was extended twice, in 1884 and again in 2000. It is long overdue a single cohesive plan, which I may come back to later, but the first issue regarding the building is its ownership. In 2006, the building was designated as a national cultural institution. At the time, the building was owned by the former City of Cork Vocational Education Committee, now the City of Cork Education and Training Board, and the plan was that ownership of the building would be transferred to the Office of Public Works, which would do the requisite works. That was in 2006 but since then, unfortunately, we have had the recession and difficult economic times. Ownership of the building remained with the VEC and the transfer never took place. That had knock-on implications in that the Crawfords had to continue doing essential repairs, maintenance, etc. My first key priority is to try to sort out the ownership of the building and have it transferred from the education and training board, ETB, to the OPW.
The second priority relates to the ownership of the collection. We have a wonderful collection of over 4,000 pieces of art, primarily Irish art. It is one of the largest collections of Irish art in the country, mainly 18th century up to modern art, but we have an ownership issue with regard to it. It is split in two in that we own anything acquired after 2006 when we set up our own company but anything acquired prior to 2006 is still owned by the ETB. That is far from satisfactory in terms of various practical issues such as insurance. It insures some pieces while we insure others. We are not getting the most competitive rates. It seems to be a simple enough issue and it is the second priority I would like to have regularised.
My third priority relates to the organisational structure. Last month, the Minister appointed eight new members to the board and, this month, the director of the gallery, who has served the gallery for over 30 years and has done a wonderful job in building up the art collection, is retiring. That leaves two issues for me to deal with from an organisational point of view. First, I need to make interim arrangements for the management of the gallery until such time as we appoint a new director, and I have already done that. Second, I need to make arrangements to appoint a new director. I am working on a job description and talking to the Department about that. Essentially, the third priority relates to the organisational structure.
The fourth priority relates to the strategic plan which, along with the code of practice, is a very important document. From what I can gather, a draft strategic plan was prepared in 2011, on which substantial progress was made, but apparently the Government then announced the potential merger of the Crawford, the National Gallery and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, IMMA. While that did not go ahead, the strategic plan seems to have been put on hold. There is some very good work in that plan but it needs to be updated and moved forward. The fourth priority is to develop a strategic plan. We can do a certain amount at this stage with the board but the new director will have a significant input to the plan. While we can make some progress, we need to bring the director on board before we get into the meat of that issue.
Moving on to operations, from what I have seen in my first month so far, the gallery is very well run, with very good procedures. I was delighted to see the code of practice on the operations director's desk. It was well worn, which means it is used regularly. I am very impressed in terms of the regulations, etc.
The gallery's budget from the Government is quite modest, given what it does. It gets a grant of €1.375 million and from that it runs a number of concurrent exhibitions every year. It does a superb job with what is essentially a limited budget. It generates additional income of approximately €100,000 but its budget is quite modest. To be fair to it, it punches above its weight in that regard.
Two issues struck me immediately with regard to operations. First, there is potential to increase the third party income. There must be many opportunities for companies in the Cork area to be associated with such a prestigious gallery and to help promote and fund exhibitions, which would give us more leeway in terms of doing more exhibitions. We have a number of existing sub-committees in the gallery. We have a finance, audit, legal and artistic policy but I have set up a fourth new committee dealing with building and development.
I will refer to the building again in a moment. With regard to development, it is essentially a matter of considering opportunities for third-party development, hopefully using my commercial skills and the commercial skills and contacts of the other board members to see what we can do in that regard.
Visitor numbers are very healthy. There were approximately 180,000 last year. The number would have peaked at perhaps 200,000 in 2007 but it has recovered a bit. Fewer visitors are coming to Cork. Our budget was cut back, the wages were still the same and repairs and maintenance had to be carried out. The exhibitions were probably cut back slightly as a consequence. I would like to see the number rising to 200,000 again in the short term and, I hope, doubling to 400,000 over the next ten years.
I have asked senior management to consider and raise at the next board meeting the possibility of opening on a Sunday. At present, the gallery does not open on a Sunday. A number of other natural cultural institutions do. It seems a shame that ours does not open on Sunday because that is the day on which people have time off. Obviously, there are cost implications but I have asked the board about this. I hope we will put the arrangement into place in the forthcoming months. The operations are the fifth area on which I want to focus.
I started with the building and I am finishing with the building. The sixth priority for me is the master development plan. As I mentioned, the building is old and far from perfect. While it satisfies the minimum requirements in terms of disability access, etc., it is not perfect. There is a lot that needs to be done to any 300-year-old building. There is a significant capital project required over the next five years. I mentioned I set up a new sub-committee on building and development. The building part is essentially to focus on the building and drive it forward. There is quite an amount of work in that. We are at a very early stage. It will probably be a five-year project. I would like to carry it out on a phased basis so the gallery will remain open throughout. I have set up the sub-committee with some members of the existing board and I have also brought in some external board members with skill sets where I have seen some gaps. There has been some preliminary work done by the OPW in that there has been a strategic appraisal by three different firms of architects. They have all agreed it is possible to extent, upgrade and optimise the existing building, essentially to create a gallery that is of the requisite standard for a national cultural institution. It is probably not at this standard at present. It does need work. I have just come from the National Gallery, where I have had coffee. I do not know whether any of the members have been in the Crawford Art Gallery. Our shop is so small that the security personnel man the shop and remove the takings from it. There is a lot that needs to be done. Our storage is far from perfect. There is a lot that needs to be done. The good thing is that it can be done. I am probably coming onto the board at a good time in that finances are not as constrained as they were. I hope that is a positive.
Those are my immediate priorities. There are a number of others beneath them. I am in the job for only a month so other things will evolve. I have outlined my plan for the six to 12 months. I thank the Minister. The board she has just appointed has an excellent range of skills, which is very helpful. I look forward to working with management over the next five years to deliver a gallery of which we can all be proud and which I hope will be fit for purpose as it faces the next 300 years. I thank the committee for the opportunity to talk to members today. I will be happy to take any questions they have, with the caveat that I may not have all the answers as I have been in my position for only a month. I am getting up to speed as quickly as I can.
I thank Ms McHugh for attending today. She had quite a journey so we appreciate it. Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to visit the Crawford Art Gallery but I hope to do so.
I am interested in hearing a little more about two points. Give that Ms McHugh is so new to her post, she may not know about the education and outreach initiatives that may be happening in the gallery. For me, arts education is very important. Having such a national cultural institution must be very important to the schools in the area, both primary and secondary. We have an arts and education charter. To have what is in the Crawford Art Gallery on the schools' doorstep must be very beneficial to them. For the junior certificate cycle, support studies is a very important part. With the new leaving certificate programme coming on stream, galleries become increasingly important. What relationships has the Crawford Art Gallery with local schools? Ms McHugh mentioned the ETB, which has a particularly close relationship. Perhaps she wants to disengage from that particular relationship.
Perhaps there is a desire to disengage from that particular relationship. However, the ETBs can be very useful in engaging young people in galleries. In my previous life, I was an art teacher and history of art is part of the leaving certificate curriculum. In my experience unless the art teacher takes the impetus to get young people to a gallery, it is difficult to get students to visit a gallery on their own. As such there are two strands to my question and they are on the arts in education initiatives the gallery runs and the Crawford's experience of engaging young people in the gallery.
Ms Rose McHugh:
Education is very important for the Crawford, which has a full-time education person with responsibility in the area. In every exhibition we run, a great deal of detailed work is done at the planning stage and education is a very important part of that. We have digitised the entire collection and it is used quite a bit by primary, secondary and university students. The VEC, or ETB as it now is, has in fact been very good to us and we have a very good relationship with it. We work a great deal with schools and run a number of painting and drawing programmes for teenagers which are always booked out. There is an area which it would be useful to develop. The Crawford School of Art used to be housed with us but moved out in 1980. I have asked the principal of the school to come on board our sub-committee for artistic policy because it is important that we interact and engage with those students who are coming up. I have met with her and she has agreed to join the sub-committee to see what areas we can work on together. It is in our interest to work with the students who are studying art and are a captive audience. We should be involving them. We have had some very good meetings and the plan is to work with the principal on our sub-committee. We work with all primary and secondary schools throughout Cork and the region. Education is very important for us.
My follow up question was on visitors to the gallery. Is there still that difficulty, as there is with all regional art galleries and centres, of a perception that it is for the elite in our communities or regions? Does the Crawford have a particular way to break down that barrier or a particular policy to engage communities?
Ms Rose McHugh:
It is a good question. That perception is there to an extent and it is not helped even by our entrance which is old and austere. It can be off-putting. We have done a great deal of work to counter that and it is partly about going out to the regions. There is a men's shed group on the northside in Cork and our people have actually gone out to them to bring them back in because there was an initial trepidation about coming in. We also provide buses to people in direct provision centres to come in and we do arts and crafts classes with them. We have had to work around it and be a bit imaginative. We have subsidised courses for many of these people. It has probably involved us going out to get the people in and we have been doing that.
Ms Rose McHugh:
It is a good question. I have tried to get a breakdown of the detail behind our visitor numbers but I do not have it. We are working with UCC over the summer months to get a breakdown of our visitors to answer those questions and get in behind our numbers. I have asked the same question and it is something that is being worked on. We do not have the feedback yet but by the end of the summer we will have a great deal more knowledge on the breakdown and that type of thing.
Ms Rose McHugh:
The men's shed was a great success because they just did not want to come in. We actually bring paintings out to people just to get them comfortable with that albeit we have to be very careful not to bring some of the more valuable ones. There is a great deal of good work being done in that regard.
I think we are a visually illiterate country. I do not mean that with regard to great paintings, but about where we live, what buildings we put up and what we think look like nice houses. We are appalling with regard to where we ask people to actually survive for their lives or even where they live when they get old. We have no proper architecture at all. It is all half-copied. Ms McHugh has a huge opportunity and am delighted to hear her remark - my colleague suggested it here - that the gallery will reach out. A symphony can play all it likes in a concert hall, but if nobody hears it, it should come out and play. The Crawford Art Gallery can encourage people in. I refer to people like those in men's sheds, which is an extraordinary organisation and full of artists who might not have had the opportunity-----
-----to paint when they were young, because they were working in other areas. What does Ms McHugh think would be her greatest strength, coming to the board as the chair? I know her background is in corporate affairs, taxation and accounting. What does she think her greatest strength is going to be with her board and sub-committees? It is all going to come from her.
Ms Rose McHugh:
Even only having come into the Crawford Art Gallery a month ago, my experience enables me to go in, assess the situation and prioritise what needs to be done. One can sit back, look in, see what needs to be done and maybe distinguish the minor things from the larger things and then I suppose make them happen after that. The building is going to be an extremely challenging issue. I have decided that I am probably better off chairing the new committee that has been set up because it requires interaction with a number of Departments, the Office of Public Works, OPW, and the ETB. I am pulling a lot together. It is a matter of seeing what needs to be done, pulling it together and getting it done. That is what I am used to doing.
What does Ms McHugh understand by "participating in cultural life"? People say that, write it in great treatises and put it on the top of reports, that is, "we hope people will participate in cultural life". That is always discussed in politics. What does Ms McHugh understand by that?
Ms Rose McHugh:
I asked that and the answers never struck me. Has it changed? I would love to change that perception, get people engaged and get Cork people to go in. Tourism is probably easier because many tourists coming here want to see what is available from a cultural point of view and we tick many of the boxes. The more challenging matter is to get the local people to go in. We have a wonderful café and that brings people in. In terms of going beyond that, we have taken on a new person. We have received sanction for a part-time person-----
Ms Rose McHugh:
It is partly a matter of awareness. People just are not aware of it. I plan for some very simple things. Eight of the board are new and at the next board meeting, I am going to say that if each of them could make contact with ten new people who they think would be interested, and put an onus on them to bring people in because it would help. Opening on Sundays will be attractive because most people work during the week and have jobs to do on Saturday. Sunday is when people have time to enjoy culture and engage with it. The gallery will hopefully open on Sundays, and we will make people more aware of it. There is not an awareness there. We have a wonderful jewel sitting on our doorstep in the centre of our city, and there is much that can be done. It is partly a matter of awareness for people.
We have a beautiful library and we have started to have small weddings and functions in the building. We could do more and open it up. The library, for example, would make a superb place for a meeting room and strategy days. It is a beautiful old library. We have a board now with contacts and relationships with business people in Cork. It will start making people think about using the Crawford Art Gallery for a meeting or an away day. We had a very good meeting on International Women's Day about a month ago. Accountancy firms brought in 50 to 100 women who toured the gallery and had dinner there. I received such positive feedback on that.
It is a process of getting people in, ensuring they have an enjoyable experience and getting the word out. It will not happen overnight but I would like to see a change and that it would open up more. There are some very loyal people and very regular visitors but it is about getting the average person to come in and see what we do because there are different exhibitions all the time. A number of them are happening at any one time. It is also about getting younger people engaged and engaging with the colleges. It is hard work. It is just getting the message out there.
It is a very important point because it will not just happen with a marketing manager. One must sit and think of really creative, imaginative and evocative ways to invite one's own people in and make it a place where they go or think of as a place to be or to engage with. That takes passion and a lot of imagination and thought. It is very exciting because the gallery is asking its own people, not tourists, and wants to make it alive for them.
My last question is about ownership. I cannot believe the ETB owns the collection - not that it does not deserve it. I do not mean that. Where is that line and how much would it cost to buy it out? How does the gallery get the collection and move it to itself through the OPW? What happens there? Where is the gallery in that process?
Ms Rose McHugh:
Apparently, the requisite legislation which would have provided for the building to be transferred to the OPW and the collection to be transferred to the gallery, because we set up a new company when we became a cultural institution, was drawn up in 2007. However, the legal advice from the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General was that there was a flaw in the draft legislation. It provided that the building and contents to be transferred to the OPW. The perception was that this could mean that the collection was going there. It did not want it. Nobody wanted it but-----
I was delighted to see the Robert Ballagh piece. I was in Cork, which, to my shame, I rarely get to. I was speaking at Cork Institute of Technology, which is stunning. I went into town afterwards and got lunch and a coffee. I was walking around town and to my disgust, I could not find any public seating. I looked around and just saw older people sitting on pillars. I ventured into the space in front of the gallery but there was still no seating. I wondered what the space was for and decided to go in and lie down on one of the gallery benches, make a nuisance of myself and rest there for a while because I had already had a coffee. When we do not have public seating, it tells people that it actually costs something to go to town. A person must go into a private business to sit down and reflect. Thankfully, the Crawford Art Gallery filled that void.
No, it is really important. The Crawford Art Gallery is a public space. As I went in with that intention in mind, I was concerned that a security guard was the first person I met but that is common. I noticed that he sat in the shop and wondered whether somebody was at lunch.
Ms Rose McHugh:
To be fair, they do a great job and I am very happy that they do it.
When compared to the wonderful shop in the National Gallery, it probably does not encourage people to come in. It is very small as well. That is certainly one area that could be improved. Has the Senator any other observations?
Ms McHugh mentioned multi-disciplinary aspects and previous speakers spoke about whether our national institutions are accessible. I would probably give citizens more credit. It was good to see Roy Keane there. That was the first piece I saw. It just dragged me in.
I commend the gallery in regard to those on direct provision. Direct provision is one of the greatest scandals of our time. It is hard to imagine someone being on €19.50 a week with no access to cultural participation. One could not afford an instrument or membership of a club. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell mentioned how we participate in cultural life. What the Crawford is doing certainly should be commended.
Ms Rose McHugh:
We work with autistic and visually impaired people. Really great work is done with a tiny team. They all are very important. At the planning stage of every exhibition, they spend quite a bit of time focusing on education and outreach. To be fair to them, they actually do a very good job on that.
Ms Rose McHugh:
There has only been one. It was not from Government; it was EU structural funding. The extension in 2000 was done with EU structural funding. It is a wonderful extension. The then Minister, President Michael D. Higgins, and then Minister of State, Mr. Toddy O'Sullivan, were very helpful in that regard. There has been no capital injection of any description as such from Government. The Crawford family did the one in the 1800s and I think it was primarily EU structural funding after that. There has been no significant capital injection from Government to date.
Ms Rose McHugh:
It is overdue. We are the only cultural institution of the visual arts outside Dublin and maybe, partly because of that, we are a bit neglected. We are well overdue a capital injection. When I see what is spent on some of the others, what is required to bring it up to the standard of a national cultural institution is not huge. I do not think we will be looking for a huge amount. Being the only national cultural institution outside Dublin, it is important it is not neglected and is brought up to standard. If I was to be honest, we are not best in class at present. It is a beautiful building and I love it, but it could be improved.
In response to Senator Warfield's question on accessibility, one of the galleries is not accessible.
On that point, regional parity is something that fuels my belief in a united Ireland. It fuels everything about my politics, not that the current funding would allow one to have such a vision. I would encourage Ms McHugh to not only envisage the Crawford as a leader for Cork but for the south of Ireland. It is a huge frustration that the Government did not allow satellites for the likes of the National Gallery when it was being refurbished. One of our reports is around viable rural communities and I refer to the town of Ennis in that regard. The Tate established a number of satellites. I would encourage Ms McHugh not to allow the lack of funding from Government at this time to place a ceiling on her vision for the Crawford.
Ms Rose McHugh:
We will fit in very well. We hope the redevelopment of the Crawford Gallery will be a part of Creative Ireland. Its director, John Concannon, is hopefully coming to our next board meeting to speak to us about how the Crawford's redevelopment might fit in with that. My submission referred to other ways in which we might tie in, such as collaboration and digitisation. We have consciously looked at Creative Ireland and its ambitions and we tick many of the boxes and are working to make sure we satisfy the various objectives set out in it.
We thank Ms McHugh. We can see from her CV that she is very busy. The Crawford has a long and proud history in Cork. Often people are appointed to boards and it is rubber-stamped and ignored by committees. This committee believes it is important not to do that but to invite in the new chairpersons so we can build a relationship with them and get a better understanding about their specific objectives. This is a two-way relationship so, as Ms McHugh said, if this committee can be of any use in developing her remit and objectives, whether in terms of funding, legislation or the structures under which she operates, we will be all ears and we would love to be able to help.
The regional remit is obviously very important. There is no doubt that there are massive gaps in the regional delivery and engagement of art and culture. This is something that bucks that trend and we want to make sure it is strengthened further. We wish Ms McHugh luck.
It is terribly important an institution such as the Crawford Gallery is completely independent in its ideas, passion, imagination, creativity and artistry. There is a development regionally and rurally but there is a trend towards a Tesco-ising of the arts. I have a feeling about this in that everything will happen everywhere almost at the same time and that we will all believe in this word "creativity". One has one's own pace, time, artistry, purity, beauty and passion. It frightens me a little that people might think they have to do things a certain way or be influenced by the person who tells them how to do their artwork, even though the artists are the greatest mentors. The Crawford should remain unique and wonderful. It should use the Department and the committee, as the chairman said, but should remain unique and wonderful in its own way and not lock into someone's view about how the arts should be.
Ms Rose McHugh:
It is a unique building in Cork and a unique gallery and I hope that it does not go that way. Certainly, under my watch I do not believe it will.
In 2014 we held an exhibition on three centuries of Irish art. We have a lovely catalogue if anybody would like one. It was a beautiful exhibition of the artwork we have and it was a great showcase for the Crawford. If anybody would like a catalogue, I would be happy to send one on.
We look forward to spending many hours poring over the catalogue.
Again, we thank Ms McHugh. We will sent a letter to the Minister noting that we have had the opportunity to discuss Ms McHugh's appointment with her. We wish her great luck in her new role.