A fact that should have been reported
As reported in the Western Gazette, a ‘Transformation’ exhibition organised by Somerset Contemporary Artists Network was held in Somerton Old Town Hall from 25th September 2014, affording the general public the first opportunity to see the Hall in its intended new role as a community arts centre once finance from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) had been obtained so that the Somerton Historic Buildings Preservation Trust could buy and restore the building for community use with arts and crafts facilities and with a commercial art gallery’, the building is currently owned by the Stepping Stones Group of which Mr John Bailey is a director.
An important element was missing from the Gazette report – we must assume that at the time they were unaware – was that the Trust’s application for HLF funding had already been turned down by the HLF’s South-West Committee a couple of weeks previously. The grounds for rejection were that the application did not meet the HLF’s criteria for funding and that the Trust should not re-submit their application unless they could seriously address the issues that let them down, citing amongst other things lack of clear detail about activity planning, lack of a specific budget and unrealistic timetables. This rather flies in the teeth of the Trust’s claim in its Position Paper of 13th Jan 2014 that ‘the plans met all the criteria that the HLF required’. Clearly they did not.
A further and very important criticism by the HLF was that much of the activities would ‘be delivered by partners’, meaning the purely commercial functions of the art gallery. And that brings us to……..
Those mysterious partners
We have been told by the Trust that the rent paid by an anchor tenant occupying part of the Hall would cover running costs and that extraordinary expenses would be met ‘by further appeals’, which rather negates the whole aspiration of turning the Hall into a Somerton asset ‘at no cost to the community’. This also strongly suggests that no analysis of likely ongoing costs have been carried out, perhaps by studying data deriving from similar projects.
However, to return to the partner issue, the Trust’s Position Paper states that a couple of potential anchor tenants had been identified and later says that John Bailey introduced the Trust to an additional potential anchor tenant who was keen to use the Hall as a prestigious art gallery. The Gazette reported on 23rd September 2014 that the planned art gallery, workshops and ‘artist in residence programme’ would be run by a body calling itself SomArton. And this is where it gets really interesting!
SomArton is a limited company that was incorporated on 29th April 2013, long before the Position Paper was written. The company has a registered office in Bridgwater and a head office at No5 West Street in Somerton, the old Longmire’s off licence. One of the directors is Mr Hugh Martin, a ceramic artist, while the other is none other than Mr John Bailey. This could lead one to suspect that the Trust is passing the hat round in order that they can buy the Hall from Mr Bailey so that Mr Bailey can run a business in it, which all sounds highly incestuous and a far cry from the earlier, noble aspirations of providing a facility for the community. This may not be and hopefully is not the case but given the yawning gap between the hype and the current reportage, a certain cynicism is understandable.
The missing masterpiece
It had been widely anticipated that a really avant garde piece would be on display at the Transformation Exhibition. Unfortunately it did not appear but we are reliably informed by those who did see it privately that the work consisted of a dining room carpet covered in swirling patterns created by having hot globs of sizzling candle wax splattered all over it completely at random. It is a great shame that the public were denied the opportunity to see this masterpiece created, we are told, by a lady not previously known for her artistic leanings. We still do not know for certain why she did not attend but have heard that she was either suffering from a monumental hangover or working hard on her next one.