Making an exhibition |

3 mins

Making an exhibition

In February 2022, a report in The Journal highlighted the awarding of a café and services tender to Aramark by The National Gallery of Ireland. Artist Brian Teeling explains why this struck a nerve across the country.

Aramark are a company that profits from the racist government policy that is Direct Provision here in Ireland, but also benefits from the misery that is the Prison-Industrial Complex in the United States of America.

Given that most people incarcerated in The States are people of colour, and we’ve seen how white refugees get preferential treatment in Direct Provision, it’s safe to say that this company profits from structural racism.

The decision to award the tender to a company like this, from a revered institution like NGI, is baffling in the extreme. Especially considering in 2019 the gallery worked with the incredible Dragana Jurišić and people currently seeking asylum in Ireland to produce the exhibition, Something From There, a heartfelt and deeply personal body of work in which those seeking refuge here were invited to present personal items of theirs to explore personal expression.

I was recently invited to NCAD to speak at an ACW event that is part of their MA/MFA programme. The students there were launching Tender- a series of postcards that were the resulting work from a module organised and convened in collaboration with the National Gallery of Ireland.

A quote from their launch described, “Between January and April 2022, students on the MA/MFGA Art in the Contemporary World at NCAD undertook a module - organised and convened in collaboration with the National Gallery of Ireland - focused on museum metabolisms… the module focused on the protests and artistic interventions that are reshaping museum practice worldwide… During the course of the module, it was announced that the Gallery had awarded its three-year café contract (worth €7.5 million) to Aramark, an international corporation that provides catering services to three Direct Provision centres in Ireland as well as being one of the largest providers of catering for the American prison system. Given the focus of the module, it was decided to pivot our attention to examine the ethical ramifications of this decision. When early drafts of these postcards were presented for approval, the Gallery made the decision to step away from the collaboration, and the funding allocated for the project was withdrawn.”

We cannot accept that one of our most revered arts institutions in this country is run in this manner. Where the very idea of criticism is shunned. What we need is a way forward, structural change, and meaningful engagement with the arts.

A couple of ideas on how to address this problem:
- Change the laws that govern board appointments at NGI (and all State-backed art institutions). Currently, there are colonial laws that control some of the appointment processes for this board. We live in a post-colonial society, there is no need for the remnant of the past to control the world of the now.

- The make-up of the board is fundamental to good governance. What we need to see is that the majority of the board is selected from contemporary artists and arts workers. There should also be a current senior staff member who works at the said institution as part of this panel. Board members should also be paid, pro-rata, for their work.

- The call-out for applications at the board level should be done through an art communication platform like Visual Arts Ireland. Not behind lock and key at Public Jobs.

- No more Ministerial appointments. No more ex-officio holders automatically appointed. This is cronyism and has no place in our society. We only need to look at An Bord Pleanala to see what kind of mess this enables.

The actions of the NGI board and management, the flagrant disregard for the conscious voice of their staff, and their hideous handling of the situation since the awarding of the tender to Aramark just serve as a reminder to a haunted decaying structure in the arts that exists at state level, in some institutions. There is NO accountability for this decision, there is NO acceptance of the need for change. Sean Rainbird has buried his head in the sand, and much like the ghosts that haunt The Overlook Hotel, the board are only to be seen when the champagne is flowing. This cannot continue.

We need to see meaningful change at these institutions, from the board down to senior management. We need to show solidarity with the staff at NGI who have spoken out against this. We need to put pressure on the government to ensure that their racist policy of Direct Provision WILL end in 2024 or sooner if possible.

The image accompanying this story is Brian’s piece ‘Declan Flynn In Dublin’. Brian had it removed from the walls of the National Gallery in protest.

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