ART, SUSTAINABILITY & FUNDRAISING. Victoria Siddall is a non-executive Director of Frieze, a co-founder and trustee of Gallery Climate Coalition, and the Founding Director of Murmur, a new initiative that enables the worlds of visual arts and music to play their part in combatting the climate crisis. A strategic advisor to museums and businesses on art, sustainability and fundraising, Siddall is Chair of the board of trustees of Studio Voltaire, Cultural Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery and a trustee of the Ampersand Foundation UK.

You can listen to the podcast of this interview here.

Victoria Siddall, for many years you had a role as the Global Director of Frieze, the leading platform for modern and contemporary art?

Yes, Frieze began in 1991 with the launch of frieze magazine, so it was a magazine for a long time before it was a fair. I joined just after the first Frieze London fair in 2003 that followed the burst of energy in London around contemporary art that started with the opening of Tate Modern in 2000.

Did London not have a contemporary art market before then?

When Tate Modern opened it marked a turning point for London as an art centre. London gained a really serious, world class contemporary art museum. For the founders of Frieze, that was a moment of realization that London should have a great international contemporary art event, which then became Frieze London in Regent’s Park. I went to that very first fair, and it felt extraordinary. It galvanized the city. There was this amazing energy, the magic of an art fair appearing in the middle of Regent’s Park and the whole world coming to see it; and then it disappearing a week later.

“Frieze Masters was the first fair that I launched and ran as Director.”

Victoria Siddall, was that when you went to work at Frieze?

Yes, I started at Frieze in 2004. For many years it was only Frieze London, and then the decision was made to do a fair in New York as well, which launched in 2012. We also knew that London needed a great historical art fair, which it used to have in Grosvenor House but which ceased to exist in 2009. The extraordinary wealth of galleries who show historical art in London wanted a great fair showcase, so I was tasked with conceptualizing and building a new historical art fair for London that had the spirit and contemporary approach of Frieze.

This became Frieze Masters?

Yes, and Frieze Masters was the first fair that I launched and ran as Director. We brought in elements that at the time you would never see in another historical fair. It was really different. Annabelle Selldorf designed the fair, a great architect who is really passionate about art. The walls were all different shades of grey, it felt very untraditional. We worked with contemporary artists like Cecily Brown and Luc Tuymans, inviting them to give talks about their view of old master paintings. We also worked with amazing curators on sections, including Adriano Pedrosa (who this year is curating the Venice Biennale) who came up with the original ‘Spotlight’ section of Frieze Masters and redefined the canon of 20th century art, bringing in artists from all over the world.

You mean from outside Western Europe and the US?

Yes, Adriano was looking to Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe, at a time when many curators were not yet as au fait with artists in those parts of the world as they are now. There was also an equal gender balance between men and women in that section, groundbreaking in a historical fair in 2012, when galleries showing 20th century art and old masters were mainly focused on work by white Western male artists.

Frieze and Frieze Masters happen in London at the same time but do they have different publics?

One aim of having the two fairs happen simultaneously was to create this unmissable week of art in London, whatever your interest is. Another aim was to create crossovers in audience, encouraging people who might previously only have looked at contemporary art to also look at historical art and vice versa. Everything in Frieze Masters was mixed together. You might see a medieval sculpture gallery next to somebody showing Giacometti, or old master drawings next to somebody showing 20th century drawing.

Was it then you decided Frieze should go overseas?

Yes, Frieze New York launched in 2012, the same year as Frieze Masters. Setting up an American company and team was a huge step, and in 2015 I took over as Global Director from the founders, Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, and began running all the fairs. In 2016, Endeavor invested in Frieze and became a strategic partner, another important step. We had always wanted to do a fair in Los Angeles and Endeavor have very strong roots there through WME (William Morris Endeavor – an entertainment agency) so they were very supportive of this. We launched Frieze Los Angeles in February 2019 at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. It was an opportunity to shine a spotlight on a city where so many incredible things were happening across museums, art schools, and galleries. LA is a true artists’ city, and has seen many new galleries open there in recent years.

You also opened Frieze in the Far East in Seoul?

Yes, Seoul made sense for so many reasons. It has a rich history of artists, collectors, private museums and a thriving community of galleries. Seoul has amazing creative energy as a city. It’s a place where people want to go because of the fantastic culture and atmosphere, as well as the hotels and the food. These are all things that it has in common with London, New York and LA, and which made it the obvious choice for Frieze. Frieze Seoul launched in September 2022, just post-Covid, and as with LA we have seen many international galleries open branches there in recent years.

“The aim is to unite the art and music industries and channel funds into the most impactful climate initiatives.”

Victoria Siddall, why did you leave Frieze?

I spent 18 years at Frieze, the majority of my career to date. It was the most extraordinary experience and adventure. Ultimately I realized that I wanted to expand my experience and lead new initiatives.  I spent my childhood moving around to different parts of the world, discovering new things, and I really enjoy new challenges. I did stay on the Frieze board as a non-executive Director after I left in 2022, so the umbilical cord is still there. It is wonderful to see new and very talented people come in and shape the fairs with their own ideas.

How do you see the art world today?  

It’s a time of change in the world, and art and artists are often at the vanguard of change, seeing it first or campaigning for it. I hope the art world will continue to change and adapt in positive ways and lead the way for other industries. Museums also have an important role to play as they are mandated to take a long view, thinking 50 or 100 years into the future rather than being tied to short political cycles. That long term visionary thinking is unique to the cultural sector.

Why did you join the board of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG)?

Because it’s a museum about people, history, civilizations and society, and about how art and artists can reflect these things. The NPG reopened recently with a magnificent building and a rehang of the collection that is inclusive of different genders and races, presenting aspects of history in ways that really resonate with audiences. It’s a fascinating and important collection and programme. 

What about Studio Voltaire where for many years you have been the chair of the board?

Studio Voltaire is a non-profit gallery and artist studio community in Clapham in south London. They often give artists their first institutional show or their first show in the UK, so they are supporting artists at a really crucial stage in their career. They also give them the freedom to experiment, and this has resulted in some captivating exhibitions. We reopened Studio Voltaire in 2021 after a major capital campaign, and there’s now space for 70 artists in the building. Loewe (a luxury fashion house) support seven artists to have free studio space and pastoral care for two years, which is proving transformative to their lives. It’s an amazing place, but I have been on the board for 12 years and am ending my term soon.

Recently you joined a new charity called Murmur, founded by Caius Pawson. They say Murmur is an opportunity for the world of art and music to show that they take responsibility for their impact on the planet and are committed to addressing climate change. Who is involved? 

There are some real climate experts involved in Murmur, for example Chris Stark who is a trustee of Murmur and until recently was the CEO of the UK Climate Change Committee. The aim is to unite the art and music industries and channel funds into the most impactful climate initiatives. Founding partners in music include Beggars Group, !K7, Secretly, Because, Ninja Tune and Impala. In art they include LUMA Arles, Hauser & Wirth, Frieze, Thomas Dane, Mendes Wood and Alexandra Mollof. Wolfgang Tillmans has been very supportive as an artist and lent his imagery to the launch campaign. When I left Frieze, I’d already been working for a couple of years with a group of people in London that was launching Gallery Climate Coalition (GCC) in 2020.

What is Gallery Climate Coalition?

GCC was founded because galleries and artists in the commercial art world wanted to do something to be more sustainable as an industry, to do something to support climate initiatives, but they didn’t know how to do it in isolation. It needed a coalition approach. So we launched Gallery Climate Coalition as a membership organisation that anyone could sign up to by committing to a 50% reduction in carbon emissions across the industry by 2030 and an aim of zero waste to landfill. Very quickly we had not only commercial galleries signing up, but a lot of museums as well as artists and art businesses, and now GCC has 1100 members in 40 countries. Christie’s and Sotheby’s are members; Frieze and Basel; museums like Tate, MoMA, LACMA, M+ in Hong Kong; all the big galleries around the world, and many artists as well.

Victoria Siddall

Victoria Siddall at Frieze LA

Victoria Siddall

Frieze sculpture in Regent’s Park by Alicia Kwade

Victoria Siddall

Edition made by Elizabeth Peyton to benefit the National Portrait Gallery – produced by Avant Arte

Victoria Siddall

Victoria Siddall shopkeeping with Sydney Ingle-Finch, Roksanda Ilinčić and Frith Kerr

Victoria Siddall

An interior of The National Portrait Gallery

Victoria Siddall

Victoria Siddall speaking about art and sustainability on behalf of Gallery Climate Coalition in the FT business of art summit alongside Cliodnha Murphy from Hauser & Wirth and Juan Ignacio Vidarte of the Guggenheim Museum.

“Artists are really at the heart of the whole art ecosystem, so the investment there is critical.”

Victoria Siddall, why is there a need for Murmur? 

One of the things that Gallery Climate Coalition recommends to members is that, once they have done a carbon audit to measure their emissions, and committed to reduction, they pay strategic climate funds as an alternative to traditional offsetting. Murmur makes this possible. I met Caius through a brilliant charity called ClientEarth, made up of environmental lawyers who hold governments and big businesses to account on climate. Caius has raised money for them through the music industry, and I organised an auction series with Thomas Dane to benefit ClientEarth. We had donations of works from Cecily Brown, Rashid Johnson, Antony Gormley, Beatriz Milhazes and Xie Nanxing, which raised $6.5 million for ClientEarth over the course of a year.

How does that lead to Murmur?

All of that helped me see the impact that the art world could have through raising funds for climate initiatives. Caius and Matthew Slotover, one of the Frieze founders, came up with this concept of Murmur, a shared climate fund for businesses in the art and music industries who’ve done their carbon audit and have committed to reducing their emissions. They then make an annual financial contribution into Murmur’s charitable fund, and we have expert advisory boards who grant that money out to the most impactful climate initiatives. We’re also working on how you harness the special power of artists and musicians in influencing and inspiring audiences and creating broader behavioral change.

Are you rethinking philanthropy?

It’s essential to do so, in this country in particular because the Arts Council reduced funding in London to take more money to institutions outside of London. The funding is truly needed outside of London, however some institutions within London have been left with a funding deficit, and costs have gone up so much. It becomes crucial to rethink how we fund museums and art organisations that contribute so much to our cities. Avant Arte is one example of this, engaging an incredible audience of young collectors in supporting museums and nonprofits, and I advise them on institutional partnerships and work with them on fundraising editions. We launched one with Elizabeth Peyton to benefit the National Portrait Gallery when it reopened.

Is your aim to ensure that London remains a place where artists choose to live and work?

There is such a vibrant community here of galleries and non-profits and interesting things happening every day, because it’s an artist city. The mayor’s office was the first to support the capital campaign for Studio Voltaire, creating this new studio building for 70 artists, because they see the importance of keeping artists in London. Artists are really at the heart of the whole art ecosystem, so the investment there is critical. There has to be government funding, but we also have to innovate and find new ways of making these things happen.

Labour governments historically encourage the public sector more than private initiatives. If that happens, how will it be?

Alastair Campbell was asked in a talk recently what his advice would be to an incoming Labour government, and his advice is that culture is an area that, with relatively little investment, the UK can be the absolute best in the world. The infrastructure is there, the talent is there, the will is there. It wouldn’t be hard. The shadow culture Minister, Thangam Debbonaire, has been meeting with museum leaders and engaging with this and asking what’s needed. This is a good sign.

Are you just talking about art?

I don’t just mean art here, I mean culture more generally, music and film and art and so on. When Melvyn Bragg spoke in Parliament about culture, he said that culture is not the cherry on the cake, it is the cake. Encouraging our leaders to see how powerful culture can be as global soft power, as an economic driver, as something that drives tourism, that drives business, that inspires people. We are positioned in this country to continue to be the best in the world, but it requires some government attention and some investment.

There is a lot of competition nowadays, even within Europe, and Paris seems to be back again?

Absolutely. But this is not an either-or situation. Paris getting more interesting as a cultural centre doesn’t diminish London. It’s great that there is more going on in the world, engaging more audiences.

Immediately after Covid, people said nothing would be the same. Did we forget Covid existed and the world just keeps on going the same way?

I’m sure we all, particularly younger generations, have internalized some experience of that. It won’t be easily forgotten even if it’s not at the front of our minds at all times. The younger generation, as has been the case throughout history, are obviously the ones who are changing things. There’s a power in being young because you have your whole life ahead of you and that revolutionary spirit. I recently spoke to a group of young people who are part of the New Curators cohort that Mark Godfrey set up to diversify the pipeline of people coming into the museum sector. I conversed with them about Gallery Climate Coalition and Murmur and sustainability, and they were so engaged and so informed. It was a given that this was something they care about and that they were going to integrate into their practice and into their work and into their lives. I came away feeling really invigorated and inspired; and relieved, because this generation is going to do so much good for the world. And there is a lot resting on the next generation.

Thank you very much for this conversation.

Thank you. I really enjoyed it.

 

Portrait of Victoria Siddall by Benjamin McMahon

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Victoria Siddall, why is there a need for Murmur? 

One of the things that Gallery Climate Coalition recommends to members is that, once they have done a carbon audit to measure their emissions, and committed to reduction, they pay strategic climate funds as an alternative to traditional offsetting. Murmur makes this possible. I met Caius through a brilliant charity called ClientEarth, made up of environmental lawyers who hold governments and big businesses to account on climate. Caius has raised money for them through the music industry, and I organised an auction series with Thomas Dane to benefit ClientEarth. We had donations of works from Cecily Brown, Rashid Johnson, Antony Gormley, Beatriz Milhazes and Xie Nanxing, which raised $6.5 million for ClientEarth over the course of a year.

How does that lead to Murmur?

All of that helped me see the impact that the art world could have through raising funds for climate initiatives. Caius and Matthew Slotover, one of the Frieze founders, came up with this concept of Murmur, a shared climate fund for businesses in the art and music industries who’ve done their carbon audit and have committed to reducing their emissions. They then make an annual financial contribution into Murmur’s charitable fund, and we have expert advisory boards who grant that money out to the most impactful climate initiatives. We’re also working on how you harness the special power of artists and musicians in influencing and inspiring audiences and creating broader behavioral change.

Are you rethinking philanthropy?

It’s essential to do so, in this country in particular because the Arts Council reduced funding in London to take more money to institutions outside of London. The funding is truly needed outside of London, however some institutions within London have been left with a funding deficit, and costs have gone up so much. It becomes crucial to rethink how we fund museums and art organisations that contribute so much to our cities. Avant Arte is one example of this, engaging an incredible audience of young collectors in supporting museums and nonprofits, and I advise them on institutional partnerships and work with them on fundraising editions. We launched one with Elizabeth Peyton to benefit the National Portrait Gallery when it reopened.

Is your aim to ensure that London remains a place where artists choose to live and work?

There is such a vibrant community here of galleries and non-profits and interesting things happening every day, because it’s an artist city. The mayor’s office was the first to support the capital campaign for Studio Voltaire, creating this new studio building for 70 artists, because they see the importance of keeping artists in London. Artists are really at the heart of the whole art ecosystem, so the investment there is critical. There has to be government funding, but we also have to innovate and find new ways of making these things happen.

Labour governments historically encourage the public sector more than private initiatives. If that happens, how will it be?

Alastair Campbell was asked in a talk recently what his advice would be to an incoming Labour government, and his advice is that culture is an area that, with relatively little investment, the UK can be the absolute best in the world. The infrastructure is there, the talent is there, the will is there. It wouldn’t be hard. The shadow culture Minister, Thangam Debbonaire, has been meeting with museum leaders and engaging with this and asking what’s needed. This is a good sign.

Are you just talking about art?

I don’t just mean art here, I mean culture more generally, music and film and art and so on. When Melvyn Bragg spoke in Parliament about culture, he said that culture is not the cherry on the cake, it is the cake. Encouraging our leaders to see how powerful culture can be as global soft power, as an economic driver, as something that drives tourism, that drives business, that inspires people. We are positioned in this country to continue to be the best in the world, but it requires some government attention and some investment.

There is a lot of competition nowadays, even within Europe, and Paris seems to be back again?

Absolutely. But this is not an either-or situation. Paris getting more interesting as a cultural centre doesn’t diminish London. It’s great that there is more going on in the world, engaging more audiences.

Immediately after Covid, people said nothing would be the same. Did we forget Covid existed and the world just keeps on going the same way?

I’m sure we all, particularly younger generations, have internalized some experience of that. It won’t be easily forgotten even if it’s not at the front of our minds at all times. The younger generation, as has been the case throughout history, are obviously the ones who are changing things. There’s a power in being young because you have your whole life ahead of you and that revolutionary spirit. I recently spoke to a group of young people who are part of the New Curators cohort that Mark Godfrey set up to diversify the pipeline of people coming into the museum sector. I conversed with them about Gallery Climate Coalition and Murmur and sustainability, and they were so engaged and so informed. It was a given that this was something they care about and that they were going to integrate into their practice and into their work and into their lives. I came away feeling really invigorated and inspired; and relieved, because this generation is going to do so much good for the world. And there is a lot resting on the next generation.

Thank you very much for this conversation.

Thank you. I really enjoyed it.

 

Portrait of Victoria Siddall by Benjamin McMahon

ENJOY THIS INTERVIEW? SHARE IT WITH A FRIEND.