Art Market

London’s Southbank Centre was criticized for proposed staff layoffs in an open letter.

Daria Simone Harper
Aug 7, 2020 4:16PM, via The Art Newspaper

The Hayward Gallery at London’s Southbank Centre. Image via Flickr.

In an open letter addressed to the management of London’s Southbank Centre, more than 1,500 signatories voiced concerns regarding the institution’s recent proposal for staff layoffs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, the Southbank Centre—the United Kingdom’s largest arts and culture center, which includes the Hayward Gallery—announced that up to two-thirds of its staff would be made redundant, causing the loss of roughly 400 jobs. The letter’s signatories include current and former employees at the institution, which may remain closed until spring of next year due to the pandemic.

The open letter, titled “#SouthbankSOS,” asserts that the planned layoffs will disproportionately impact the lowest paid employees, including young people, people of color, and people with disabilities. It goes on to question the pay of the executive leadership team, which has taken some cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter specifically calls out the institution’s CEO, Elaine Bedell, whose salary increased in 2018–19 from £194,377 ($254,000) to £240,750 ($315,000) according to the 2018–19 annual report.

The letter reads, in part:

Despite her 20% pay cut, [Bedell] is still earning more than she did in 2018. This salary remains significantly higher than that of the Tate director… We question whether it is appropriate to maintain such a salary for the CEO of a closed arts centre.

The letter also addresses a lack of creative leadership at the institution, which has been without an artistic director since 2018, and without a creative director since October of last year. Last weekend, more than 150 people protested the Southbank Centre, an action organized by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and Unite Unions. Despite the closure of Southbank Centre until at least April of next year, the Hayward Gallery reopened on August 1st.

A spokeswoman for the Southbank Centre said in a statement to The Art Newspaper :

A number of our colleagues protested this weekend about the proposed redundancy action that the Southbank Centre has sadly had to take as a result of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to a catastrophic loss of 60% of our income. We sympathize with the uncertainty and anxiety that this is causing and respect our staff’s right to express their opinions in this way. We’ve also been made aware of an online petition and are concerned by the extent of the inaccuracies contained within it. We will continue to work with our staff to ensure that we remain transparent, open, and honest, and share all information with them as we try to navigate our way through this unprecedented crisis.
Daria Simone Harper