New Initiatives and New Priorities at London's Ben Uri

In January 2019, Ben Uri Gallery and Museum launches two initiatives reflecting new strategic priorities: a Research Unit on the immigrant contribution to British visual arts culture since 1900, and an Arts and Dementia Institute, charged with generating arts programs and interventions to trigger and/or improve cognitive behavior. From the Guardian.

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From Press Release:

Ben Uri now prioritises its public benefit by distinctiveness and return on investment of assets employed. The two new initiatives are:

Research and Collection combined:

Ben Uri will launch the museum sector’s first formal Research Unit on the immigrant contribution to British Visual Arts culture since 1900. The Research Unit (BURU) is charged with compiling and publishing the first on-line, fully-illustrated dictionary of the immigrant contribution, Jewish and all; addressing artists across all media, teachers, scholars, critics, publishers, suppliers and patrons. Europe and Russia will be the first areas to be addressed.

Ben Uri first started formal research on the immigrant artist experience in 2003, inspired by the Jewish experience in the early years of the 20th century, from which Ben Uri emerged in 1915, and the second wave of Jewish immigrant / refugee artists escaping or surviving the Holocaust. Ben Uri was the first museum to appoint a separate Research Fellow for the Study of Immigrant Artists (in the name of Eva Frankfurther (1930-1959) in 2011. This elevation of priority fits perfectly within the museum’s focus of Art, Identity and Migration.

As part of BURU, the current Museum Collection has been subject to an exhaustive, curatorial-led re-assessment, alongside the Collecting definitions and policies. The redefinition has resulted in a definitive refinement of the Collection, representing some 700 works accounting for some 10% of the total insurance value, which will be the subject of disposal via sale (starting with Sotheby’s in November and December this year) over the coming years and free of charge, inter-museum and community gift transfers. These institutions will be selected on the basis they, unlike Ben Uri, will be able to generate meaningful public benefit from them. The majority of the works identified for new homes have rarely been exhibited.

The residual Collection will benefit from an increased acquisitions budget to grow the representation of immigrant artists in parallel with our research focus. The ambition is to build the country’s most authoritative collection of works by immigrant artists to Britain since 1900.

The museum will be opening a month-long exhibition celebrating important acquisitions in this field since it reopened in 2002, after 6 years without a gallery. The exhibition opens on the 31 October, running until 2 December at its gallery in Boundary Road, off Abbey Road, St John’s Wood London NW8 0RH. These include master works by Auerbach, Bomberg, Chagall, Epstein, Gertler, Grosz, Herman, Rosenberg, Solomon, Soutine and Wolmark, alongside contemporary immigrant artists including Guler Ates, Tam Joseph, Hormazd Narielwalla and Zory Shahrokhi.

This will be the last full scale exhibition at Ben Uri in Boundary Road as from February next year the gallery will open to the public, free of charge, every Monday, study days, events and by appointment. Ben Uri will continue to curate and tour full scale survey exhibitions both nationally and internationally.

Dementia and Mental Health:

Ben Uri will launch the museum sector’s first Arts and Dementia Institute. This follows ten years working in the sector and five years since shifting from activity / entertainment to defined, researched and critically assessed art interventions within residential and care homes. The Institute is charged with generating the first UK (if not, we understand, internationally) accredited set of programmes / art interventions that have inbuilt adaptability of engagement which can trigger and or improve cognitive behavior past the moment of impact.

One unique feature of our programming is the careful selection of artworks used (in full scale reproduction form) to recognise and best engage the client groups’ heritage, characteristics and, where known, interests. The works selected are from the Ben Uri Collection as it is dominated by two distinctive features often found to be highly relevant to the client groups - 65% made up of immigrant artists, being 281 artists from 34 countries of birth - and 24% of the artists being women, compared to 4% nationally. One of many distinctive features is that we do not use the classic, iconic works of art history. We carefully select from our diverse collection to best reflect the recipients’ backgrounds.

The issues of how our society (and globally) addresses ageing, loneliness, social isolation and those living with dementia are critical within the spectrum and growing understanding of mental health challenges, both from the personal perspective and the cost to the NHS.

The initiative is designed to develop intuitive, adaptable, fully researched, accredited and, equally important, cost refined and effective interventions that can be rolled out nationally through NHS commissioning bodies and the private sector alike.

Results of our work to date give us the evidence and confidence we can further develop our programmes to materially lift the average benefit of art interventions nationally, through dedicated and fully researched programming.

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