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The spirit of generosity
It’s just over 18 months since Robert Yates was taken on as development manager at Brighton Royal Pavilion and Museums and in that time, member- ship numbers have more than tripled, from around 800 to nearly 3,000. In the next six months, he hopes to add another 1,500 names to that list and help shore up the future of the landmark buildings.
There has been a charity supporting the Royal Pavilion and Museums for more than 20 years but in the midst of a turbulent economic climate – and with particular threats to arts funding – Yates explains: “There was a feeling that the charity needed to grow significantly and raise greater sums of money to support the Pavilion and museums. So I was brought in.”
The University of Sussex graduate has been working in the charity sector for more than 20 years. After his degree, he worked as a programme manager with Voluntary Services Overseas in Tanzania, where he helped set up and manage development projects covering health, business and education. He spent six months with VSO in Guyana before returning to Sussex in 2001.
Before coming to Brighton, he was working in fundraising at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
“It’s not too dissimilar here to Kew in many respects, but the fundraising foundation there has been going for many years – they have in the region of 78,000 members and are very successful. I’ve moved from one organisation whose fundraising was fully functioning and developing to one that needed to get off the ground. The big challenge is making the museums and Pavilion financially secure and developing all the different streams of fundraising that big organisations such as Tate Modern, Tate Britain and the Royal Academy have.
“If we succeed, we’ll do something quite historic in creating a future for buildings that define Brighton and Hove.”
Despite, or perhaps because of, its prominence in the centre of the city, the Prince Regent’s eccentric pleasure palace is something many Brightonians take for granted and rarely visit. Of the Pavilion and museum’s current members, 60% live in Brighton and Hove; the other 40% come from areas such as Lewes, Hassocks, and Hurstpierpoint.
“We met one lady last year who was in her 50s, had lived in Brighton all her life and had never visited the Royal Pavilion – even though she sent all her visitors here!”
Yates is keen to see more of us making regular visits.
For £23 a year, he points out, members can enjoy free entry to the Pavilion and museums and free entry to all exhibitions. Patrons are invited to receptions, private views and dinners.
All contribute vital funds to the upkeep of the historic (and iconic) buildings. “The Pavilion is a Grade 1-listed building and it’s fragile.
When the Prince Regent built it, he didn’t imagine it being around longer than his own lifetime. It was innovative in its day but now it’s susceptible to city pollution, sea air and so on. You have something that needs constant care and attention.”
But it isn’t just about the conservation of the buildings – it is also about their contents.
This month the museum intends to bid on a Turner painting of Brighton (with the Pavilion centre stage) that is going under the hammer at Christie’s in New York for an estimated half a million pounds. “It’s the only Turner painting of Brighton and would be a great thing for the city to have.”
The Royal Pavilion and Museums Foundation is applying for grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Art Fund but is also appealing to members and patrons for help. Last year, tasked with raising £15,000 for a series of Regency caricatures for the museum, Yates decided to ask each member for £15. Within a couple of months, they had £18,500.
“One of the things I most like about working in the charity sector is that you can quite quickly see the tangible effects of the work you’re doing. You’re always in touch with the people or things you’re trying to support and quite often you can do things very quickly and get results. It’s great to see people come together and achieve things as we did with the caricatures.”
Despite challenging times for all of us, Yates continues to be cheered by the level of support he has found for the Pavilion and museums.
“People have become more careful with their pennies, particularly in the past six months. But as a fundraiser, I always think people have two folders – one for bills and rent and so on and another for the things they really enjoy and get pleasure from and people are often very willing to support those things. For some people, arts and culture are an escape from the world, from the drudgery of the nine-to-five; for others they are an inspiration. Either way, they believe in them and support them.”
One of the key aims for Yates is to increase public engagement with the Pavilion and museums – to make everyone realise they have a stake in their future.
In June, it will open a new, permanent gallery, World Stories; Young Voices. Co-curated by local young people and community groups, it will display a range of objects from Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Americas, all of which tell stories through the eyes of the young. This even includes, Yates reveals with a grin, a table football.
“It’s all about saying, ‘It’s not stuffy, this place is for everyone’. I grew up in Liverpool and there was never a feeling that you couldn’t do this or that – you’d just go to an art gallery or theatre. I don’t know if that’s because it’s a bigger city, or the different politics or history, but there was just that feeling and we want to recreate that here.”
The gallery will be the official South East partner for the Cultural Olympiad for London 2012 and is included in the prestigious London 2012 Festival.
Other events include Dreams Of Here – an exhibition of contemporary art by Sussex-based international artists including Tom Hammick, Julian Bell and Andrzej Jackowski. Next month there’ll be Charlotte, The Forgotten Princess – which celebrates the short life of Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, the only child of George IV and Princess Caroline of Brunswick. And March and September sees a major exhibition on the work of Biba founder, interior design guru and Brighton University graduate Barbara Hulanicki.
While Yates’s career has taken him along several different paths, they are all linked, he says, by an interest in people.
“It’s all about building relationships. What runs through all of my work is that I really like people. I find them fascinating and am constantly inspired by how generous people are with their time and money.”
* For more information about the Pavilion and museums, or to find out more about becoming a member, visit the website, www.brighton-hove-rpml.org.uk