David Shrigley tea towels anyone? Christmas gifts to save the arts

Buy a present designed by your favourite artist, decorate your tree with a Bowie bauble, or get a bottle of gin to drown an orchestra’s sorrows. How to help struggling arts venues with your Christmas shopping

In the year of Covid-19, theatres have been shuttered, orchestras unable to play, dance companies stilled. Museums and galleries opened briefly to seriously limited numbers, meaning slashed income from tickets, shops and cafes. Arts organisations around the UK, in short, are in dire straits. So here are some suggestions for midwinter cheer that will also support the arts. Solve Christmas – and help the arts.

We’re all thinking it – and Jeremy Deller has got it printed on to wrapping paper. Proceeds from the artist’s Fuck You 2020 range, made with designer Fraser Muggeridge, will support the community and education programme of Studio Voltaire, a brilliant gallery in south London, as well as charities Young People Matter and Crisis This Christmas. Items in the range, bearing the same message, also include a digital print signed by Deller (£30), a Christmas stocking and a Santa hat.

The national charity Art Fund has launched a crowdfunder called Together for Museums, aimed at raising £1m to distribute among the UK’s museums and galleries, 60% of which, according to the organisation’s research, are worried about their ability to survive the financial difficulties of the pandemic, despite government emergency funding. Donors can opt to receive “rewards”, which will be sent out in the spring. A donation of £15 means a bright and cheerful Supermundane “Hope” patch; £25 a set of David Shrigley tea towels; £100, a special-edition Michael Landy Look Around print in pink neon; £500, a limited-edition Lubaina Himid print.

Buy a pair of coat hooks for the Fruitmarket Gallery’s new engagement studio.
Buy a pair of coat hooks for the Fruitmarket Gallery’s new engagement studio. Photograph: Sally Jubb

For the art lover with too much stuff already, pick something from the Fruitmarket Gallery gift registry. Instead of their receiving yet another dust-gathering tchotchke, the Edinburgh gallery will itself get a fabulous present thanks to your generosity. You can choose to donate, say, a pair of coat hooks (£20) or a toilet roll holder (£25); or, if any super-rich happen to be reading this, a beautiful ceramic drinking fountain designed by artist Tania Kovats (£15,000). The Fruitmarket was partway through a redevelopment and expansion when the pandemic struck. Delays to building work have meant increased costs, and donations through the gift registry will help give them the final push towards reopening next year. Donors will be invited to a celebration at the gallery next year (pandemic permitting) and recognised on a dedicated website page and leaflet.

Doing a spot of Christmas shopping in any online museum shop will support that institution directly. Museums such as the V&A, Tate, British Museum and National Gallery have extensive and renowned shops, but don’t forget the smaller contemporary art galleries, which often have intriguing items by local makers and designers, as well as objects made in collaboration with artists who have exhibited there. The Hepworth Wakefield shop, for example, has an elegant Barbara Hepworth planter by Alex Sickling (£30), and a clean-lined stove-top coffee pot designed by the Yorkshire gallery’s architect, David Chipperfield (£28), as well as stocking fillers like a a bee-friendly seed pack for £2.50. Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge stocks some striking jewellery by local designer Elsiem, and nicely made replicas (£45) of small-scale Gaudier-Brzeska sculptures in the collection. Fans of Tracey Emin can find her charming bird-decorated milk jug (£24.95) at Turner Contemporary’s Christmas shop. The Baltic in Gateshead has David Bowie and Yayoi Kusama baubles, plus a whole David Shrigley range, including his I’m So Hungover I Wish I Was Dead reusable water bottle (£25.95).

David Bowie bauble on sale in the Baltic shop.
Christmas starman ... David Bowie bauble on sale in the Baltic shop Photograph: -

In common with performing arts companies throughout the UK, English National Opera has had a devastating year, very largely unable to perform, to earn income, and indeed, to employ its usual army of freelance creatives. The company’s pre-Christmas fundraising drive is a raffle. Tickets cost £2 each, and could win you a two-night stay at the Hotel Bristol, Vienna, a private recital by ace Scottish tenor Nicky Spence, or many other miscellaneous treats, not all opera-related. Tickets are available to buy online until 11 December; winners are drawn on 14 December.

Gladstone’s Library, in Flintshire, north Wales, is the only residential library in Britain, the basis of its collection being the personal library of the 19th-century prime minister (it is a kind of ancestor of US presidential libraries). Writers such as Sarah Perry and Naomi Alderman have worked on novels there through its excellent writer-in-residence scheme; it also runs public talks, festivals and courses, and a cheerful restaurant – all of which ground to a halt in 2020. (Full disclosure: I was one of the last writers to complete a residency there, in February, before the pandemic hit.) To help combat the devastating loss of income, the library is now inviting members of the public to sponsor a shelf in its beautiful gothic reading room for £100. That will help them get back on their feet – and re-employ their brilliant team – in 2021.

Sign a loved one up to a friends’ scheme and give regular, sustained support. Tate membership, for example, means free entry to exhibitions, a subscription to the very good Tate Etc magazine, a discount in the shops, and access to friends’ rooms and bars. But check out schemes in your local venue too, which will almost certainly have some kind of programme: you can become a member of Storyhouse, Chester, for £4 per month, meaning discounted tickets and priority bookings; Hospitalfield in Arbroath has a special programme of talks, visits and events for friends; Glasgow Citizens Theatre has a tiered system, starting from £5 a month and bringing a 10% discount on tickets; Bristol Old Vic’s friends scheme offers up to 25% off tickets and priority booking.

Philharmonia London Dry Gin
Raise an orchestra’s spirits ... Philharmonia London Dry Gin. Photograph: Nikolaj Schubert

Raise a glass and help the Philharmonia Orchestra, which has worked with an artisanal gin producer to create a limited-edition Philharmonia Gin (£34.99), subtly flavoured with notes of Seville orange and cassia. A portion of proceeds will go to support the orchestra, whose ability to perform and earn income has plunged this year. What’s the connection between gin and orchestral musicians? The Philharmonia is resident orchestra at the Three Choirs festival and Ludlow Dry Gin is very much on the patch of that venerable institution, which rotates annually between Worcester, Hereford and Gloucester cathedrals – the 2020 edition, of course, being cancelled.


Charlotte Higgins

The GuardianTramp

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