Culture24 News Review of the Year 2009

By Culture24 Staff | 22 December 2009
a photo of stonehenge stone circle with the sun shining through it

Prehistoric rave site, tourist juggernaut and sacred spat-starter – the stones at Stonehenge (above) stood in silence, but still witnessed a volatile year.

"The fundamental thing about Stonehenge is that we will never know what it was for," said bemused site archaeologist Dave Batchelor in January, as the tabloids seized on a report suggesting the grounds had been used for big-beat caveman carnivals.

a photo of the large factory chimney of Tate Modern

Government figures often highlighted culture and tourism as a potentially talismanic sector for the troubled economy, starting when Gordon Brown and former Culture Secretary Andy Burnham called the industry "part of the answer to tough times."

An ever-present worry for purveyors of the vast extension to Tate Modern (right), it still failed to perturb planners from submitting their £215 million proposal. Paul Rooney won the £16,500 Northern Art Prize.

The Art Fund Prize, the £100,000 centrepiece for galleries and museums across the UK, kicked off with the announcement of a 10-institution longlist.

Positioning vaguely low-key underdogs (Denbighsire's Ruthin Craft Centre, a Wedgwood Museum shadowed by the collapse of the empire it chronicles) against no less worthy projects formed by better-known competitors (the Victoria and Albert Museum, National Museums Scotland and Glasgow's Kelvingrove), all 10 shared an innate ability to feign surprise at their inclusion.

Antony Gormley invited applications for One and Other, his public art installation on Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth, opening a virulently wriggly can of critical worms in the process.

a photo of a modern glass fronted building

Holy hotspots had their own resurrections to look forward to in Spring, with a £15.5 million investment at 150 listed worship sites across the country leaving few drains unspruced.

2010 was already sharply in focus at the Arts Council, most notably for more than 100 members of staff facing redundancy in a cost-cutting attempt to save £6.5 million next year.

Art Fund Director David Barrie stepped down after 17 years in charge, and one of the few major schemes his charges didn't support arrived at Newcastle (above), where the futuristic new library met with approval as the end of a two-year building project finished.

a photo of a smiling man

Liverpudlian library lovers persuaded Andy Burnham (right) to order the first review of its kind since 1991 with a series of demonstrations against plans by Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council to close more than 12 buildings in pursuit of a potential £3.7 million saving.

"Nobody I have met wanted this library to close and it looks like the Culture Department in London shares these concerns," muttered local Councillor Leah Fraser, putting books back on shelves after the last-minute reprieve.

There was better news for rural conservation schemes elsewhere, scoring an £8 million support package from the Lottery.

an architects digital recreation of a visitor centre


The new visitor centre at Stonehenge (above) was announced for the "sustainable and affordable" Airman's Corner at a cost of £25 million, and the truly magnificent festival of frivolity that is Museums at Night was launched by a cast of dapper dancers and other people in suits aboard HMS Belfast. The Art Fund Prize named four lucky shortlistees, taking in England, Scotland and Wales – Kelvingrove, Orleans House in leafy Richmond, the Ruthin and the Wedgwood.

a photo of a man in drag

With the pottery-making company a wrecked dream, Stoke-on-Trent's homage to the decaying UK manufacturing industry, the Wedgwood Museum, won the Art Fund Prize, much to the delight of a dress-donning Grayson Perry (right).

The Art Fund itself poached Tate Britain's Stephen Deuchar as their new Director, and 30,000 Geordies visited Newcastle's new £24 million City Library (see March).

In a year when the build-up to the Olympics felt more akin to a trudging marathon than an exhilarating sprint, figures as skeletal as the skinniest of track-runners provided one of the eeriest hidden stories.

a photo of group of excavated skulls

Initially investigated in January, one of the routes to the eventual Olympic village turned out to be a 2,000-year-old mass grave full of dismembered bodies and skulls from an Iron Age Roman massacre (left).

The line between entertainment and art blurred once and for all as the Fourth Plinth project revealed 2,500 Big Brother-style winning exhibitionists, each taking their spot for an hour in a continually-revolving three-month rota devised by Antony Gormley.

"He reminded me of Morgan Freeman in [the film] Bruce Almighty, which is to say that he looked like God," recalled Alastair McKay, who was among the debutants.

a photo of a sea shore

The Environment Minister pledged a £10 million clean-up for British waterways (right), the Lottery Fund announced £7 million in investment for skills training across the sector, and Durham and Birmingham squared up for the start of the UK City of Culture competition.

If it was controversy you wanted, Stonehenge had plenty. Salisbury City and Wiltshire Council member Paul Sample alternately compared the plans (see April) to an immigration centre and "Hitler's bunker", but planners promised to "pleasantly surprise" their outspoken parliamentary detractor.

Scientists took a look at the Olympic mass grave (see June), defining the victims as young men beheaded in bloody Anglo-Saxon battles during the ninth and 10th centuries.

a photo of a stuffed rabbit looking into a mirror

The lengthy saga surrounding the B of the Bang, the £1.4 million Manchester sculpture prone to dropping spikes onto oncoming roads, ended with the final part of Linford Christie's 184ft landmark being consigned to a recycling tip.

Better value came in Bristol, where Banksy's stupendously popular secret show (left) at his native City Museum was revealed to have earned the hooded hero a measly £1. English Heritage stepped in to save Heritage Open Days and announce an intriguingly thorough programme of treats for enthusiasts to nose through.

a phot of gold treasures from the Staffordshire haord

Southampton City Council set the fatcats amongst the painting pigeons, inviting uproar as they pondered flogging works from the City Art Gallery to fund a new maritime museum. They've got until mid-2010 to reconsider after a prohibitively cautious Museums Association response.

In arguably the highlight of the year, amateur metal detector Terry Herbert stumbled upon the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found (above) on farmland in Staffordshire, drawing emotional outpourings from experts.

a photo of a modern building with a steel spirasl structure on its outsdioe

Former UK Film Council Head of Research Jim Barratt described the government plan to merge his former organisation with the British Film Institute as "a done deal."

The lure of the new picnic spot at Stonehenge began to emerge – pictures released as part of the formal submission of the planning application were convincingly impressive. Even Councillor Sample may have to have a rethink after the vast majority of voters on his website favoured the designs.

Culture Minister Ben Bradshaw was sufficiently seduced to offer £10 million to the cause, which was relatively small change in the context of a massive round of government funding for a national film centre at South Bank (£45 million), the British Library's new storage centre (£33 million, left), the Tate Modern's extension (£50 million) and a new Centre at the British Museum (£22.5 million).

It epitomised a year when leaders repeatedly came out swinging against an inevitable funding glut, the worst of which is probably still to come. Arts Council boss Alan Davey urged against "formulaic cuts", none of which were happening at Oxford's £61 million new-look Ashmolean Museum.

a painting of a vase with flowers in it

Acceptance in Lieu, the tax loophole allowing would-be benefactors to trade off their treasury debts by buying art, produced a glittering rundown of works saved (right) in a bumper £20 million year for the scheme.

There was good news for Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, which won the £5 million lucky dip at the Lottery Fund's 15th birthday party.

National Trust staff in Cumbria pulled off heroics to salvage what they could as torrential rain battered buildings throughout the county – Wordsworth House escaped by "about two inches" in the town where a policeman was tragically killed as he attempted to help drivers to safety, and campsites and galleries around the Lake District were submerged under some of the most severe flooding ever seen in the UK.

The Treasure Valuation Committee valued The Staffordshire Hoard (see September) at £3.3 million when it went on show at The British Museum.

a photo of a large industrial buiding with a sign saying mosi over its front door

Plenty of cheery news to conclude the year, starting with The British Library opening "the most advanced facility of its kind in the world" with its new £26 million storage facility in Yorkshire.

The Victoria and Albert Museum opened its £32 million Medieval and Renaissance galleries to widespread approval and Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry announced a £7 million Revolution scheme to dramatically renovate the former warehouse (above).

Lewes Priory, the Medieval monastery in the idyllic East Sussex town, won most of the costs for a £725,000, two-year rebuild, and Artist Rooms, the hugely successful travelling circus of weird and wonderful art bequeathed for a bargain price by Anthony d'Offay, will return for another year in 2010.

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