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Last Updated: Friday, 20 August, 2004, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Royal Academy denies crisis
By Nigel Wrench
BBC

Blindfold drawings by Hussein Chalayan
Hussein Chalayan sketched various objects whilst blindfolded
A director at the Royal Academy of Arts has denied the arts institution is in crisis over the discovery of an unauthorised 80,000 bank account set up by Professor Brendan Neiland, the keeper of the Royal Academy Schools who resigned three weeks ago.

But director of the Royal Academy Trust John Nickson has told BBC Radio 4's PM Programme in the first interview on the Neiland affair: "We believe it had been going on for four years."

Professor Neiland resigned three weeks ago, and has refused to comment on the affair. He is at his holiday home in France. The Academy has launched an investigation and the police have been informed.

Mr Nickson said: "The Royal Academy did have a crisis eight years ago (when the bursar was forced to resign and sentenced to five years in jail for stealing 400,000 from the Academy), it does not have a crisis now. It is dealing with a very serious situation, but I dispute that we are in crisis."

Asked how it was allowed to happen, he said: "It wasn't allowed to happen. It hasn't been allowed to happen.

"Brendan Neiland as keeper of the Royal Academy Schools was subject to the same budgetary disciplines and financial controls as everyone else in the Royal Academy who controls a budget. He was found to be in breach of that. So it was not allowed.

'Outside control'

"We believe it had been going on for four years."

Asked: you've only found out about it now?, he replied: "How else were we expected to find out about it if everything that he did was outside the control of the Royal Academy, or indeed the knowledge of the academy?"

If there aren't any crises, there wouldn't be any fun
Royal Academician Tom Phillips
Mr Nickson said: "It was his private pot. His private pot of money. It had nothing to do with the Royal Academy's own funds, it had nothing to do with the Royal Academy's donors. It was his own project."

Mr Nickson told the programme that Mr Neiland raised the money through his private work as a consultant, and through the sale of artworks, none of them the property of the Royal Academy. One thousand pounds was from a donor, but Mr Nickson said that has been returned.

'Irritants'

A former secretary of the Academy, David Gordon, now director of the Milwaukee Art Museum in the United States told the PM programme: "Brendan Neiland...did enormous things to raise the profile of the schools, but as an academician he felt he shouldn't be trammelled by rules of financial control.

"He found these irritants, he thought that he as an academician should be allowed to do what he wanted to do, and that's no longer possible in the academy of the 21st Century.

"It's okay in the 18th Century.

"My fear is that it becomes a little bit ridiculous. It requires a group of academicians to become reformers and modernisers."

The distinguished artist Tom Phillips, a Royal Academician who chairs the Academy's Exhibitions Committee, said: "Brendan's business was to run the schools, which I think he did very brilliantly. That role enabled him to do things which were unconventional financially, which doesn't look too good in a kind of straight organisation."

He said: "Of course there's going to be some crises. If there aren't any crises, there wouldn't be any fun. If there's no crises there's no creativity. You try running a studio, you'll find it's crisis after crisis. We're used to it."




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