Pallant House Gallery: reduced budgets, but certainly not reduced ambitions

Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery is getting ready to emerge from the second national lockdown with Degas to Picasso: International Modern Masters (December 3-April 18).

Simon Martin
Simon Martin

Adapting to changing times, it is an exhibition which the gallery has drawn from its own collection, as gallery director Simon Martin explains. The point is that you have got to look for the opportunities, he says.

“We have got between 4,000 and 5,000 works in our collection, and we are very much spoken about as being a great place to see 20th century British art. But between all the various gifts and bequests that we have had over 40 years, we have actually also got a wonderful representational collection of international works starting with prints by Manet and Whistler and Cezanne and original paintings.

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“Over the past couple of years, the focus has become about bringing things in from the outside and we haven’t really given our own works the space. But during the winter this year when people would normally be looking for winter European city breaks, we can show them instead this wonderful collection of international works in Chichester. That will be our main exhibition and there will be more than 40 artists, and for us to be able to draw on our own remarkable collection of works is great.”

It comes as the gallery remains buoyant despite the disappointment of the new lockdown. Again, it is a question of looking at the positives: “We were very fortunate that we managed to reopen the gallery in August, and the exhibitions that we just opened in March when we had the first lockdown we were able to continue with, and we had a complete run with the Barnett Freedman.

“So between the two lockdowns, we have had a very successful time – in spite of limits on numbers and social distancing and the pre-booking system and having nine hours less opening time. We reduced the opening to 4pm every night.

“But what happened was that visitors were much more evenly spread across the day rather than, as often happens, us being very, very busy in the middle of the day.”

The majority of people were pre-booking, but the gallery was generally able to accommodate drop-ins: “The feedback that we had was almost universally positive. We had lots of people saying that it was their first cultural trip out that they had had.”

As for the financial side of things: “Pallant House is very much dependent on a variety of different income sources. One of those is Chichester District Council and also the Arts Council. Their support is very important to us. Quite a bit of our income is from our endowment fund, and this has built up over a number of years. All the indications are that the income from that is going to drop significantly, and so we are having to make plans accordingly.

“The positive thing was that we were open from August to October, but we didn’t have income from March, April, May, June and July, and in a way, we are having to tighten our belts, very much so, and that’s why drawing on our own collection seems to be very sensible. There are no transport costs. There are no loan fees. But there are also a lot of opportunities. We can do a lot more research and we can focus our digital efforts on this.

“Financially it is concerning for us, as it is for every other organisation, but we are very fortunate that we have got up to 4,000 Friends and they have stayed with us, and they have really appreciated the contact that we have made with them. I am an optimistic person generally, but I think being able to get everything together in the summer – the one-way system, the pre-booking system, all the health and safety, everything in place – means that we are now in a good place for when we can reopen. Our budgets are being reduced, but not the ambition of what we are trying to do.”