UK’s Tate art galleries get first female chief

LONDON (AFP): Britain’s prestigious Tate institution that houses four of the country’s best known art galleries Tuesday announced it would have its first female director with the appointment of Maria Balshaw. The 46-year-old will succeed Nicholas Serota in one of the most influential jobs in the country’s arts industry after transforming Manchester’s cultural landscape. “I am honoured to be asked by the trustees of Tate to become the new director,” said Balshaw, who takes over on June 1. “Under Nicholas Serota’s leadership, Tate has changed forever how we all think about art and artists and has made visual art a central part of a vibrant cultural life in the UK.” The incoming director, Tate’s ninth, vowed to develop the institution’s “reputation as the most artistically adventurous and culturally inclusive gallery in the world.” Serota has run Tate for almost 30 years, transforming it into a global brand, and is leaving to become chairman of Arts Council England. He masterminded the creation of London’s Tate Modern, the world’s most popular modern art museum, and oversaw the institution’s other three galleries: Tate Britain in London, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives.

Balshaw will quit as director of the Whitworth Art Gallery in the run down Manchester neighbourhood of Moss Side.

She oversaw its £17 million ($20.6 million, 19.3 million euros) renovation and helped it win Museum of the Year in 2015.

She is also director of Manchester Art Gallery and the Gallery of Costume, and director of culture for Manchester City Council.

Balshaw earned a reputation as a champion of live and performing art with one installation consisting of an artist spending 65 consecutive days in front of a live audience, eating, sleeping, and drawing.

She has been credited with significantly expanding the collections of the galleries she leads.

“The trustees and I know that Maria has the vision, drive and stature to lead Tate into its next phase of development,” said Tate chairman of trustees John Browne. “We enthusiastically look forward to working with her as she does so.”



Giant power outage hits Amsterdam rail, roads

THE HAGUE (AFP): Amsterdam was hit by a giant power outage Tuesday, causing road and rail chaos that left scores of rush hour commuters stranded, authorities said. The power cut meant no trains to or from Amsterdam’s busy main rail station, resulting in a rush of drivers onto the road and heavy traffic.

“Other parts of the country are hit by the knock-on effect,” Dutch National Rail said on its website. “The power cut has since been fixed but rail traffic is still seriously affected,” it said shortly before 10:00 am. The power cut was repaired by 0800 GMT, electricity provider Liander said, but it warned “problems may still occur due to the start-up process.” It did not give a reason for the cut, but The Netherlands has been experiencing sub-zero temperatures overnight. Early Tuesday, large parts of Amsterdam and its northern neighbours Zaandam and Landsmeer were hit by the massive power cut, affecting some 360,000 households and public transport including the capital’s tram service, Liander said. Dutch road safety association ANWB warned that heavy traffic jams had formed on the A2 highway between Amsterdam and Utrecht. Dutch public newscaster NOS meanwhile showed television images of commuters resignedly waiting for the problem to be fixed at Utrecht’s central station, while long queues formed at bus stops at Amsterdam Central station.



Bikeshare cycles dumped en masse in China


BEIJING (AFP): More than 500 bicycles from China’s flourishing bike-sharing companies have been dumped in huge piles on the streets of the southern city of Shenzhen, reports said. Pictures showed jumbled stacks of vehicles nearly three metres high, with handlebars, baskets and other parts scattered on the ground. City streets around the country have seen an explosion of the colourful bikes that users can rent on demand with a smartphone app and then park wherever they choose. The sharing economy is taking off in China, where ride-sharing and AirBnb are increasingly commonplace. New tech firms such as Ofo and Mobike, with their rival fleets of bumblebee yellow and fluorescent orange bikes, have been locked in a cutthroat battle for users and profit. But problems have arisen when clients have abandoned their cycles. “Some people these days just have really bad character,” a man named He, who lives near where the stacks appeared, told the Southern Metropolis Daily. “When they’re done using [the bike] they just throw it away somewhere, because they’ve already paid.” In the past few days he witnessed people demolishing the bikes before discarding them on the side of the road, he said.


Residents told the paper that bikes have been piling up over the past week, either parked haphazardly by careless users or stacked by local security guards trying to clear narrow residential alleys and footpaths.

Zhuang Chuangyu, a representative to Shenzhen’s municipal people’s congress, said that the city needed to step up regulation of the ballooning bike-sharing industry in order to improve traffic conditions and safety standards, especially since primary and secondary school students often used the bikes.




HSBC funding Indonesian forest destruction: GP




Greenpeace on Tuesday accused banking giant HSBC of helping to arrange billions of dollars in financing for companies whose palm oil operations have been blamed for destroying vast swathes of Indonesian rainforest.

The environmental group said the British bank had broken its own guidelines which ban supporting palm oil companies involved in unsustainable practices as it was part of syndicates that had arranged $16.3 billion of loans since 2012.

The bank was also involved in arranging nearly $2 billion of corporate bonds, the activists said in a new report.

“HSBC claims it’s a respectable bank with responsible policies on deforestation. But somehow these fine words get forgotten when it’s time to sign the contracts,” said Annisa Rahmawati, senior forest campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

The bank said it did not knowingly provide services to directly support palm oil companies that do not comply with their policies on deforestation.

Vast tracts of Indonesian jungle have been cleared in recent years to make way for plantations to feed insatiable global demand for the edible vegetable oil, which is a key ingredient in goods from shampoo to biscuits.

This has led to the destruction of the habitats of endangered animals such as orangutans. Burning land to make way for plantations also causes huge forest fires that burn out of control most years and shroud the region in toxic haze.

Greenpeace, which analysed corporate financial data and company reports and statements, listed six firms it said received financial services from HSBC and whose palm oil operations had been accused of unsustainable practices.

The report said the companies were accused of activities including land seizures from local people, forest fires, abuse of workers and operating without legal permits.

HSBC said customer confidentiality meant it could not comment on specific companies.

But the bank added it had no interest in financing customers involved in illegal operations, land clearance by burning, the conversion of high-value conservation areas, child or forced labour or the violation of local communities’ rights.

“We are not aware of any current instances where customers are alleged to be operating outside our policy and where we have not taken, or are not taking, appropriate action,” the bank said in a statement.

The companies mentioned in the report as having received financial services from the bank were: Bumitama Agri; Goodhope Asia Holdings; IOI Group; Noble Group; Posco Daewoo; and Salim Group.

Noble referred requests for comment to its sustainability information document, which said its plantation arm was a member of the industry’s Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and it followed RSPO procedures.

The other companies did not respond to requests for comment.