Some forty years ago I worked through university vacations in a lowly capacity for the Arts Council. Among many charismatic and inspirational figures in the ranks was a young lion in the Exhibitions department: the tall, lean and Jesuitically dedicated Nicholas Serota. His head boy promise was fulfilled when in 1988 he was appointed director of the Tate Gallery – a sleepy institution he would expand into a brilliantly administered empire that revolutionised the national taste for contemporary art.
Serota has now abdicated this throne and returned to the organisation that nurtured him. On Monday he gave his inaugural speech as Chairman of Arts Council England, opening another chapter in the troubled organisation’s history.
Back in the pre-Thatcherite 1970s, the Arts Council’s mission seemed simple. Acting for the entire UK (now it is responsible only for England), it could operate on the belief...
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