Tate looks beyond London extension
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Simon Stephens
The unveiling of the Tate Modern extension in London last month was heralded as “the most important cultural building to open in Britain since the British Library” in 1988. The big claim – made by Tate itself – is probably justified, considering its £260m price tag. Of course, importance is not just related to cost, although in this case it is certainly an expression of Tate’s influence and power. But there is no doubt that Tate has had a major impact on the visual arts scene that goes far beyond its ability to raise huge sums of money. Ever since Tate Modern opened in 2000, the organisation, which Nicholas Serota has overseen for nearly 30 years, has often led the way as a global arts brand.

So what does the new Tate Modern say about the organisation today?

It was clear from the publicity that Tate is aware that it is yet another national institution spending a great deal of money on expanding its physical presence in London. So the press material emphasised how more than 100 schools from all over the UK, including Orkney, Cornwall, Caerphilly and Derry, were invited to visit Tate Modern before the full public opening. Many came through Plus Tate, a 35-strong network of visual arts organisations spread across the UK.

More broadly, Tate has been working hard to collect works that are more emblematic of the global art world. So, displays at the new Tate Modern feature more photography, performance and film, as well as more work by female artists. And artists from far more countries are represented in its collection.

Tate Modern now better reflects the diversity of the city it is in – a melting pot of so many cultures. But one of the challenges will be to make sure that all of London’s vast range of communities feel that Tate Modern is theirs to visit.

And on a UK-wide scale, Tate should make sure that it continues to support other arts organisations to improve their work while not imposing a London-centric view of what that work should be. Many art galleries outside of London are keen to work in partnership, and do desperately need support, but it needs to be done in a way that is equitable and fair.

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