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Minutes of the Board of Trustees - Monday 16 June 2020

Minutes of a meeting via Zoom to update the Board on the Gallery’s re-opening plans held on Tuesday 16 June 2020 at 11am


Sir John Kingman (Interim Chair)
Catherine Goodman
Moya Greene
Douglas Gurr
Tony Hall
Katrin Henkel
Rosemary Leith
David Marks
Tonya Nelson
Stuart Roden
Charles Sebag-Montefiore
John Singer
Molly Stevens



In attendance

Gabriele Finaldi (GF)
Paul Gray (PG)
Victoria Hayes (VH)
Carol Keltie (CK)
Chris Michaels (CM)
Julie Molloy (JM)

1. Update on the Gallery's reopening plans

1.1. The Interim Chair said that the focus of the meeting was to update Trustees on the Gallery’s re-opening plans for final approval.

1.2. GF said that a huge amount of work had gone into preparing for re-opening, led by PG and CK, the Gallery’s Head of Operations. He said that it was an exciting and historic moment for the Gallery to be re-opening first after being closed for three months, and a month before other museums. He said that bringing employees back to the Gallery to work would be a gradual process and that in the last few weeks essential members of staff had returned to the Gallery to prepare for re-opening, including art handlers, curators and conservators. He said that in consultation with the Trade Unions, risk assessments had been carried out and precautionary measures put in place to ensure their safety in the workplace. GF showed some images of how the Gallery planned to welcome visitors.

1.3. He said that provided the government gave permission to re-open, a soft opening was planned from Saturday 4 July for Members, donors, Trustees, staff and some NHS essential workers with entry to the general public from 8 July. He said there remained uncertainty about when the announcement would be made, with no clear signal as yet from DCMS.

1.4. GF said that the Gallery would look and feel very different when it re-opened and that Gallery 32 was now finished and looked magnificent and that the art handlers had re-hung this space and other areas of the Gallery to allow for the changed visitor route and to display new loans and acquisitions.

1.5. CM said that for visitors returning to the Gallery the journey would begin online and that everyone would be expected to book through the website. He said that the main emphasis was on providing a safe visit. He gave a presentation which outlined three routes visitors could follow and confirmed that they would need to make choices based on what they wanted to see. CK said that front of house and security staff would be trained to offer help and assistance as required. CM said that there would be no time limit per visit and that the opening weeks would provide much insight into visitor behaviour. CK confirmed that tickets would be available to those who were unable to book online.

1.6. The Interim Chair said that an extraordinary amount of work had gone into the planning. A Trustee asked for confirmation that visitors bringing hand sanitisers into the galleries would not cause a chemical imbalance and whether it was safe for umbrellas to be brought in in the absence of cloakrooms. PG said that plenty of hand sanitiser would be provided, but he would check whether there were any conservation risks involved with visitors using their own. CK confirmed that umbrella covers would be provided, but that large umbrellas would not be allowed in the galleries and would be stored elsewhere.

1.7. A Trustee asked whether, on the assumption that all visits would be regulated, the Gallery had taken any active decisions to allow a bit more freedom. PG confirmed that there would be no markings on the floors delineating 2 metres. CK said that the plan had built in agility so that the Gallery could adapt quickly if guidelines changed. CM said that there had been much discussion around opening hours and that these would be conservative to start with but could be expanded quickly if there was sufficient demand. CK said that generating income was also important and that careful consideration had been given to the siting of the catering and retail offer along the route.

1.8. Information has been excluded under s.36 and s.43 FOI 2000.

1.9. A Trustee asked where the biggest risk was perceived to lie. PG said that audience research suggested that providing a safe and secure environment was key to encouraging visitors and there would be risk if the Gallery failed to achieve that. He said that preparations had been meticulously planned. He confirmed that the Gallery was following the government checklist.

1.10. CK confirmed that research indicated that visitors would be more likely to donate than previously and that they would be prompted to make a donation when booking online. She said that the team were looking into the possibility of having a contactless payment point near the exit and that all collection boxes would remain in place.

1.11. There was a discussion about temperature testing and whether face coverings should be compulsory. Despite the lack of firm guidance from the government, the Trustees strongly recommended encouraging visitors to wear a face covering which would demonstrate putting safety first and would reduce the risk of infection. A Trustee pointed out that social distancing in toilets was almost impossible and that as most people would be using public transport to get to the Gallery a recommendation that they continue to use their face covering could have no downside. CM said he would put a message on the website. CK confirmed that staff would be provided with PPE as appropriate.

1.12. The Board approved the Gallery’s reopening plans.

2. Black Lives Matter

2.1. The Interim Chair asked GF to outline for Trustees what discussions the Gallery had been having around the Black Lives Matter campaign. GF said that it was a highly complex area and that taking a neutral stance was no longer feasible. He said that in the past, the Gallery as a government funded body had refrained from making political statements, and had instead tried to respond to events through its activities, but that the climate had changed so that silence was now perceived as being complicit. He said that the Gallery had put out a message saying that it stood in solidarity with those who reject racism, inequality and violence through social media channels. He said that a particular difficulty for the Gallery was its location in the heart of Trafalgar Square, which was most often where demonstrations took place.

2.2. GF said that the internal response as to how the Gallery should respond also had to be taken seriously and that part of the Gallery’s strategy was to draw in a younger audience to whom these issues mattered a great deal.

2.3. In response to concerns raised by a Trustee as to what the Gallery’s response would be if challenged on particular items in its collection, GF said that much work had been undertaken by the curatorial team to ensure that all labelling marked clearly where paintings were associated with slavery. He said that there was much ongoing discussion between the six main national museums about how best to respond and act and that he would keep the Board updated.