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Alan Haydon (1949–2011)



Alan Haydon on holiday in Kerala, India, 2009

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Alan Haydon, a very close friend of Robin Klassnik since the early 1980s and Matt's Gallery board member since 1993.

Inspiring Director of the world-class De La Warr Pavilion,
Alan Haydon, died aged 61 following a short illness. Under his leadership, the De La Warr transformed into the major centre for contemporary arts that it is today, internationally recognized outside of the capital for its high profile and innovative arts programme.

He was born in Lewisham Hospital, South East London in 1949. His father was a builder and his mother a housewife. He attended Ealdham primary school followed by Eltham Green School, one of the first comprehensive schools in London. He went on to study at Camberwell School of Art from 1972–75, under the tutorage of David Troostwyk, a staunch conceptualist. It seems the ground was laid here in knowing the value of ideas.

Following art school he flirted with the commercial art market, and did a short stint at Sothebys, London. However his motivation appeared to be more rooted in the democratic potential of art and he made a move into the public arts sector where he was to remain for the rest of his career. He brought his entrepreneurial spirit to the role of Arts Centre Manager in Hammersmith, London (1977–80) where he kick-started a new arts community space in Shepherds Bush focusing on the local community of young people and adults including a ceramics studio, recording studio, cinema and theatre.

This paved the way to a new expanded role, as Visual Arts Officer (1980–83) in the London Borough of Hammersmith where he managed a portfolio of borough wide visual arts projects. In 1983 he hopped over to what was then, Greater London Arts where, as Visual Arts Officer, he drew up new policies for gallery development, public art and support for artists. Developing a keen eye for strategy along with his passion for artists' professional development, he became Strategy and Regional Development Officer there between 1989–91. Here he skillfully implemented the Arts Plan for London with specific gaze on the role of the arts in urban regeneration. Ever interested in new ways of thinking around how to make things happen, between 1991–3 he was Senior Visual Arts Officer at Arts Council England, charged with forwarding new policies around the support and investment in the professional and economic status of the artist.

In the Christmas of 1992, he left London and headed north with his family to take up the post of Head of Visual Arts at Northern Arts beginning in the new year of 1993. Described by a former colleague as a 'master facilitator' Alan skillfully acted in this strategic funding role as someone who carefully empowered colleagues in his portfolio without being overly directive, a very delicate balancing act. This was a moment when Lottery funds were coming on stream for the first time with Arts Council England as a distributor. Here he played a proactive role in the development of Lottery related projects in the North East. He set the new policy framework for the visual arts and crafts in preparation for the UK Year of the Artist in 1996. A significant cultural event, this was a mini Cultural Olympiad of sorts, where cities and regions were able to bid to celebrate the visual arts. The North East was successful in being the host for this national celebration and the resulting programme was inspiring, leaving a legacy whereby culture became part of the DNA of the region and importantly providing a marker for new ambitions to breed and emerge such as Baltic, Sage and MIMA. Alan was a key player in this North East Cultural Renaissance, stimulating the UK Year of the Artist 1996 programme. Audacious large scale commissions were conceived including the iconic 'Angel of North' by Anthony Gormley and 'The Messenger', by Bill Viola, a potent work made in response the powerful spiritual context of the world heritage building Durham Cathedral. A recognizable pattern begins to unfold throughout his career of an individual who engenders new opportunities for artists and audiences alike.

His adventurous nature and commitment to artistic excellence made him attractive to other similarly minded organizations. He was an early supporter and regular visitor to Matt's Gallery London, renowned for giving artists fruitful creative license. He was invited by director Robin Klassnik to join their board at its inception in 1994. Equally he joined the board of Locus+, the innovative Newcastle based artists' commissioning agency in 2000. He has remained with both organizations ever since.

After four years of living in Northumberland, he made the move south again in 1997 to take up the post of Director of Craft Development at Crafts Council, establishing a new commissioning strand and innovative relationships with the Department of Trade and Industry and Creative Industries Task Force at the DCMS.

His expertise as a cultural strategist who placed artists at the centre combined to great effect in his role as Director at the De La Warr Pavilion. He arrived on the scene in 1999 at a critical moment when a lottery bid to support the much needed major capital refurbishment of the Grade One listed building had been declined and the likes of Wetherspoons pub chain were making expressions of interest in taking over the building.

He loved a challenge, (with people as much as projects), and so he was in his stride here, in many respects it proved to be his 'call to action'. His single mindedness, staying power and ability to influence secured not only the building itself, but significantly, set the tenor of the future artistic programme. By 2002, he led a team in securing an Arts Council England Award of £4,100,000 towards the new proposals as well as £1,900,000 towards the restoration and repair from Heritage Lottery Fund and a further £2,000,000 raised from private and public sources. He also safeguarded its future prospects by overseeing the negotiations for match revenue funding of over £1million year on year, from both the local authority, Rother District Council and Arts Council England — a previously unprecedented arrangement at this high level of funding.

His vision for the modernist architectural gem was a place where contemporary culture came together, and exploration of the spaces where art, film, sound and music converge. He recently remarked "our task is to allow artists to work within those spaces and to build bridges for audiences to cross". His strong sense of purpose has ensured that the De La Warr Pavilion has been a source of incredible experiences for many people; he had long been an advocate of the notion of Great Art For Everyone. The capital refurbishment completed, the building reopened on 15 October 2005, attracting over 500,000 people in its first year. He orchestrated a bold and distinctive programme that is now renowned as a special destination for artists where one-off performances and collaborations crystallize: Ian Breakwell, Bill Furlong, Goldfrapp, Jeremy Deller, Andy Warhol, Eddie Izzard, Nathan Coley, Grayson Perry, Joseph Beuys, Michael Nyman, Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson and The Fall, to name just a few. His vision for the De La Warr Pavilion was subtle as it was significant and he skilfully brought out the very best in artists and those around him.

More a maverick and less a bureaucrat, his professional successes and impact lay as much in the character of the man as his skill and knowledge. Those that knew him will recall a charismatic individual. He had great presence, entertaining, he was the very best of company with a wonderful appreciation of good food, wine, a lively debate and a penchant for beautifully tailored and brilliantly coloured corduroy suits.

Alan is survived by his wife Cat Newton-Groves and their son Harvey; and by his son Simon, by his first wife, Eliane.

Alan George Haydon
Senior Arts Professional, 31 October 1949–9 October 2011

Text by Celia Davies, Curator and Former Head of Exhibitions, De La Warr Pavilion

 

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