[from Islington Tribune]
Shiri Shalmy outside the art gallery. ‘This has been a labour of love for me,’ she said
Park loo that became gallery faces closure as cash dries up
Plan for information centre raises questions over how decisions are made
A THREAT to a popular art gallery – in a converted public toilet in the middle of 115-acre Finsbury Park – sparked a row this week about who should run the famous open space.
The gallery, in a former toilet block opposite the lake, boasts hundreds of visitors each week. It has received a £3,000 grant from Islington Council, but Haringey Council, which controls the park, has refused funding because it wants the building for an information centre.
Gallery operator Shiri Shalmy, from Kentish Town, is using a personal overdraft to keep it open. Unless she finds more funding, she says it will close next month.
The park is used by thousands of residents from Islington, Hackney and Haringey and extends into the three boroughs. But Haringey, which controls its management and finances, wants to use the gallery building to provide information to visitors and only occasionally run art exhibitions.
A campaign is being launched to set up a partnership organisation which would give the three authorities a say in decisions about the park.
Peace campaigner Bruce Kent, who lives locally, has called for an emergency meeting of the Friends of Finsbury Park to discuss the threat to the gallery.
“It’s a wonderful venue and it should be properly funded,” he said. “There have been some excellent exhibitions. But arts and information shouldn’t be in conflict. They should be able to provide both.”
Local historian Hugh Hayes, who has written the definitive book on the park, said it was too important to be left to one borough. He added: “My impression is that few Haringey councillors take any interest in the park. The main concern is that it generates enough cash each year.
“Residents in Islington and Hackney feel they want a say on how it’s being run.”
He considers the gallery to be a wonderful asset. “But I’m not sure if it can double as an arts and community resource,” he added.
Mr Hayes revealed he had sought financial details about the park, going back five years, from Haringey Council under the Freedom of Information Act.
He added: “I got last year’s accounts. Then Haringey stalled and said I must pay £750. That’s ridiculous – it’s a public park with public money and I’m a resident.”
Ms Shalmy had been working in the park on a £50,000 heritage project when she came across the empty building two years ago.
She got permission to use it as a gallery and employed volunteers to help refurbish it.
Ms Shalmy said: “This has been a labour of love for me. I’ve got into serious personal debt running the gallery because there’s been very little funding.
“This is the only art gallery in the area but I’m not even allowed to put up a sign in the park to tell people where it is.”
Its current exhibition about old Finsbury Park has attracted 2,000 visitors in two weeks, mainly due to word of mouth and her own publicity.
Ann Barwick, chairwoman of the Friends of Finsbury Park, said the building was always intended to be used an information centre.
She added: “Any use of space should involve the community, although there is potential for a small gallery if that’s what people want.
“The point at issue here is that it can’t be exclusively used just as an art centre.”