Joint effort

Simon Stephens, 03.12.2014
Making partnerships work at the Hepworth Wakefield
Hepworth Wakefield opened in 2011 as the largest purpose-built UK gallery since the Hayward in London was unveiled in 1968. The £35m building, with its imposing exterior and light-filled galleries, was seen as an instant hit by most people.

I visited the gallery recently to interview the director, Simon Wallis, and to research an article I’m writing about museum architecture. Meeting the director, as well as education, collections and curatorial staff, was a reminder that the gallery’s opening was when the hard work really began.

Hepworth Wakefield is supported by Arts Council England and Wakefield Council, and has wide range of responsibilities. It’s at the heart of Wakefield’s regeneration and acts as a catalyst for tourism in the area. It showcases Wakefield’s art collection, which includes works by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, and also runs an ambitious programme of international contemporary art shows.

The gallery is surrounded by areas of deprivation and providing learning opportunities to local people is one its key aims. It won the £10,000 Clore Learning Award, which was part of the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year, in 2013.

Many of Hepworth Wakefield’s activities are delivered in partnership with other organisations. The learning team is working with the University of Sheffield and a number of other partners on Imagine, a project to connect communities through research. It also has a relationship with Cape UK, the arts council’s Bridge organisation for Yorkshire and the Humber.

Hepworth Wakefield is also developing a partnership with the University of Leeds to further redevelop the Caddies Wainwright Mill, a 19th-century former textiles mill on the river Calder that is next to the gallery. The gallery opened a contemporary art space there in 2013 and wants to build on this.

Curators at the gallery have recently been working with the Royal Armouries, with the Dutch artist Folkert de Jong drawing on the collections of UK’s National Museum of Arms and Armour in Leeds for an exhibition that is at Hepworth Wakefield until 25 January.

And there is the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, a partnership between the Hepworth Wakefield, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and two venues in Leeds, the Henry Moore Institute and Leeds Art Gallery. What originally started as joint marketing has led to the partners working together curatorially on next year’s cross-venue memorial exhibition to the late Anthony Caro.

The gallery’s partnerships are helping to make limited resources go further, to access new sources of funding and to find innovative ways of working.

Partnerships are becoming increasingly important for all museums but Hepworth Wakefield seems a particularly good example of how they can benefit cultural institutions and their audiences.