Saturday, 1 November 2003

To Trust or not to Trust

My time on the board of Arts and Media Training will finally be up after an extended and very rewarding 11 years. Having had a great deal of fun (yup, that's the word I'd choose) recruiting some extraordinarily talented new board members to join the still fresh and fabulous existing Directors, my time as Chair comes to an end in April 2004. So what next? Conscious that I could use the time for more reading, walking, dog patting or cultural enlightenment I am seriously looking instead at an alternative non-executive role. It kind of gets in the blood. But who with? Arts and Business have a Board Bank service to broker the right skills with the right organisation, so that's one route, but what about extending slowly, carefully and with trepidation into a new field? What about inveigling ones way into the huge beasty that is the National Trust? These days (and this is a very new development) places on the regional committees are advertised to all National Trust members, and you fill out an application which is very reminiscent of any job application you will have ever completed. And rather than referees you need three nominees, all of whom must also be members. In the West Midlands they are looking for 3 or 4 new committee members, and are interviewing 12 self-selecting bods, including myself.
Its the outdoorsy bits that get me; walking coastal paths, woodlands and beaches in the care of the NT is always a seriously appreciated pleasure, and Mopsa is always welcomed and able to get through the sensibly designed stiles and gates. The scourge of creeping commercialism is kept away from sites of natural beauty which are kept raw and accessible, balancing protection with access. Their own souvenir shops are only a minor irritant with their homogeneity firmly rooted in uppermiddleclass stereotype (yes, I think it deserves a singular description), and even so I do love the chocolate ice cream served in Heddon Valley, Devon. The gardens, the deerparks, the rarebreeds and all that countryside stuff has me all stirred up with positives, but I can't say the same for the properties, or at least how they are displayed and offered up. The Guardian ran a strong piece on how the art was displayed by the NT, and my recent visit to Attingham Park would support this blast of criticism; the rooms are so dark that you can barely see the outline of what might be a tantalising piece of beauty or a slab of dross. The many guides are charming, knowledgeable, articulate and too everpresent, and I cannot like the roped off approach that in one fell swoop diminishes the size and feel of the rooms and stops you with equally everpresent labels from touching anything, even solid marble-topped tables that could surely take the strain. However, I think we are supremely lucky in having the NT, and I am very curious to know what it would be like from the inside looking out.

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