The Jerwood Gallery in Hastings is to lose most of its 300-strong collection of modern British art and change its name after a dispute with its sponsor, the Jerwood Foundation.
The foundation is the art gallery’s main stakeholder, having provided it with grants worth £2.6m since it opened in the seaside town in 2012.
The dispute came about over concerns about funding. The gallery's management was told in 2016 that the foundation would reduce its annual grant of £300,000 in 2019 and terminate its funding at the end of that year. The gallery then engaged a US law firm and issued a number of legal letters to the foundation, saying it had failed to meet its funding obligations.
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, the foundation’s chairman, Alan Grieve described how the involvement of the law firm had soured relations between the two parties. He indicated that the firm - a specialist in corporate disputes - had been engaged with the intention of forcing the foundation to continue funding the gallery past 2019.
According to Grieve, a disagreement also arose over the use of the Jerwood name, which the gallery's management said was impeding it from attracting additional funding.
Grieve said the gallery had been slow to raise funds from third parties. Responding to this point, a gallery spokeswoman said: "The Jerwood Foundation has never fully funded the gallery’s operations. Jerwood Gallery has always supplemented its income through earned income, entrepreneurial activity and with additional support from private funders."
Grieve told the newspaper that further tensions had arisen when he advised the gallery to appoint an executive director from a business background, which was not well received by the management. "From then on there were stresses and strains. The impasse developed into if not an ugly then an unattractive picture," he told the newspaper.
In recent weeks, relations broke down further when, according to Grieve, the gallery refused to confirm that it would not sue, despite the foundation making an offer to continue funding it at a reduced level until 2021.
In a strongly worded statement released at the weekend, the gallery’s director Liz Gilmore said: “We are disappointed to learn that the foundation appear to have broken off these discussions by making public statements when negotiations are not yet concluded.”
The foundation plans to repossess the collection, which includes works by LS Lowry and Barbara Hepworth and is owned by Jerwood Holdings, by November this year. The collection was assembled by Grieve on behalf of the late pearl dealer John Jerwood, whose foundation has provided funding for the arts since 1977.
Gilmore confirmed the loss of the artworks, saying: “Disengagement discussions between the foundation and the gallery include the departure of the Jerwood Collection from the gallery.”
Gilmore acknowledged that many of the artworks had become like "old friends" to visitors, but said the removal of the collection would “allow the gallery to use the full potential of its remarkable building, offering a broader range of exhibitions for the different audience groups it has built”.
The gallery became an independent charity in 2017 in order to become less dependent on the Jerwood Foundation. It will now be renamed, but will remain a tenant of the foundation, which owns the award-winning £5m building.
Gilmore said: “The gallery is now in discussions with key partners including Arts Council England. The gallery’s trustees are committed to its future in Hastings, and to inviting ever wider audiences to enjoy art by the sea.”
Grieve said in a statement: “Jerwood Gallery will be renamed and will no longer house the Jerwood Collection of modern and contemporary British art, which will be available for loan to art galleries and institutions throughout the UK. The three Jerwood representatives on the gallery’s board of directors have stepped down.
“Jerwood leaves a strong legacy for the Hastings community with art at the forefront of the regeneration of the town. We had hoped to have a longer relationship with Hastings. However, it is increasingly clear that the board of the gallery has a different vision for its future and so must be allowed to go forward with full financial and operational independence.”
A spokeswoman from the Jerwood Foundation said: "The Jerwood Collection will be removed from Hastings not later than November 2019 in a reasonable manner."
The article was amended to clarify some details about the nature and timeline of the dispute between the gallery and the foundation. The Jerwood Collection is owned by Jerwood Holdings, not the estate of John Jerwood as originally stated.
The article was amended to clarify that the description of a disagreement over the use of the Jerwood name came from Alan Grieve, and to include a further statement from the Jerwood Gallery.