Claims of bullying at troubled Waygood gallery

BULLYING claims against the boss of a troubled arts organisation will be heard at a tribunal.

Helen Smith, the chief executive of the Waygood Gallery in Newcastle
Helen Smith, the chief executive of the Waygood Gallery in Newcastle

BULLYING claims against the boss of a troubled arts organisation will be heard at a tribunal.

A former worker at Newcastle’s Waygood Studios is pursuing an employment tribunal for unfair constructive dismissal.

Liping Mak, 31, who was Waygood’s company administrator, claims stress caused by her boss, gallery chief executive Helen Smith, saw her signed off sick by a doctor after an outbreak of severe eczema on her face and body.

She also claims when she lodged grievances with the company in relation to her allegations of bullying, gallery bosses applied different standards to investigating her complaints than when Ms Smith had previously accused an artist of bullying her.

The chain of events, she says, led to her resigning from her job in December after being signed off since March without having resolved matters with Waygood.

Waygood is facing an uncertain future after the Arts Council and Newcastle City Council withdrew funding. The organisation had been overseeing the development of a new gallery in Newcastle city centre but the project has gone hugely over budget and behind schedule.

An independent review released in January concluded the studios’ management did not have the skills necessary to lead a new art gallery being developed in Newcastle. The city council, which has been renovating the Wards Building on High Bridge as a new gallery and studios, dropped Waygood as its preferred operator in March.

Waygood organisation suffered a separate blow when an employment tribunal upheld an unfair dismissal claim by artist Topsy Qur’et, who said he had been sacked from the organisation after Helen Smith falsely accused him of bullying her.

Waygood’s Arts Council funding will end in September and all the company’s staff have been made redundant, though Ms Smith and one other worker have been re-employed on short-term contracts.

It has now emerged that Waygood has applied for funding to the Turning Point North East initiative, which is funded by the Arts Council, for a research project “that aims to develop models of sustainability for the visual arts sector for the future”, at a cost of £11,500.

The timescale for the project is September 2010 to March 2011.

 

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