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Jenni Lomax to step down as director of Camden Arts Centre

Wednesday, November 23, 2016 2:29
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Jenni Lomax is to step down after 26 years as director of Camden Arts Centre, having elevated it from a local artist-run space to an arts venue of international stature.

Lomax, who was awarded an OBE in 2009, will step down in July 2017. During her time as director she oversaw a redevelopment of the building and gave an early break to major British artists such as Martin Creed, Mike Nelson and Simon Starling.

She said recent milestones celebrated by the centre, including its 50th anniversary and a lucrative auction that helped bolster funds to support artist residencies, made her feel it was the right time to step aside. The search for her successor will begin early next year.

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“I never intended to stay 25 years,” Lomax said. “When I started, the organisation was completely at a crossroads: it had lost half of its funding from Camden council and it was a great period of change and great challenge. I feel very proud of where we are now and all we have achieved since then, seeing the place grow and becoming somewhere that I think a lot of artists feel is their artistic home.”

Prior to Camden arts centre, Lomax helped set up the pioneering education programme at Whitechapel Gallery under Nicholas Serota and also co-led an experimental arts workshop for children in east London.

She said back then she had “never considered being a curator or taking on running an arts organisation”. However, the fact that Camden Arts Centre ran both as a gallery and a studio space for artists convinced her “there was potential to make education and that interaction between artists and the public really be at the forefront of the programme, in a way that couldn’t really happen at other places”.

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She said: “I think having artists and education at our core is what differentiates us from other places. That and the fact we never gave up on being an arts centre and just become an art gallery meant we didn’t have to be so formulaic.”

As well as giving Creed and Starling their early breaks, Lomax said she was proud of how the organisation’s international standing had flourished over her 26 years, having been the first London gallery to show big names such as South African painter Marlene Dumas, American conceptual artist Glenn Ligon, and Swedish painter Mamma Andersson.

However, Lomax warned against the impact recent cuts and restriction to public funding was having on the arts and institutions such as Camden Arts Centre, which now has no funding from Camden council.

“I do think that there is a lot of pressure at the moment, particularly within London because of the cost of living in London for artists and the cost of education,” she said. “The ecology of the organisation has always relied on their being a huge community of young artists in the area and that is under threat. All of us in the arts have a duty to find ways of supporting artists and making sure that young artists are able to practice in this city and also retain their integrity.

“I do think we are already seeing the effects of that shift. We are at risk of losing the innovation and the danger, things that are seen now as unfundable.”

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