This site is a tribute to Alan Tomkins, who was born on January 24, 1947. He was a force of nature, a mover and shaker, committed socialist and lover of the arts with a wicked sense of humour.
Alan died on the 25th May in his 70th year when - despite a long illness - he was passionately engaged in cultural and political action. This was so typical of the man who tirelessly campaigned for the arts, particularly arts that connected with people, unashamedly dealt with difficult issues, and was prepared to take on the art and political establishment. He was a socialist, with a lifelong commitment to equality, diversity and the LBGT movement. Importantly, he practiced what he preached.
This of course made him enemies. But he was a great raconteur, with a story to fit every occasion, a wicked sense of humour, and such a live wire, that he made many friends and collaborators.
In the early 1980s he ran the Cockpit Gallery, putting on the work of young artists who were breaking free of the moribund formalist tradition, which he described as ‘visual punk but with real depth’, unlike the shallow ‘Sensation’ exhibition later sponsored by the Saachi’s who he despised, not least because they took over the Greater London Council’s building after it’s abolition.
At a conference that Tony Banks called to launch the GLC arts committee, Alan spoke articulately from the floor and with such passion that Tony immediately invited him to become his assistant. Here he cut across red tape and the institution’s committees to get funding and make deals for the arts that had never been seen before. He paved the way for a whole new set of committees that created more opportunities for the LBGT communities in London and made bold moves with the South Bank that opened it up, making it more accessible to diverse cultures. When the right wing media became aware of his activities they attacked him and Private Eye ran a cartoon series on the exploits of ‘Ginger Tom’. Alan treasured these and sent examples to his guests on his 70th Birthday party in January.
Following abolition of the GLC, he became CEO of Interchange Studios and shifted heaven and earth to move them to splendid new premises in the old Hampstead Town Hall, restoring the listed building in the process; a mammoth undertaking.
In his role as chair of Arts for Labour, he used his phenomenal charm in persuading leading successful creative people to open their wallets and back AFL, both in election support and annual cultural extravaganza at the Labour Party conference. People like Timothy West and Prunella Scales were great supporters amongst others. Between elections he pressed senior Labour Party politicians to develop policy and celebrate creative achievements in the Arts from individuals, amateur and professional networks. He passionately believed in arts for and from the people, which was a guiding principle in all that he did. He persuaded a series of Secretaries of State to commit to the conference event: there is an enduring and successful series of keynote debates and splendid posters as part of his legacy. He engaged the trade union movement and won the support of many a general secretary to support the work of AFL.
In his final days he was working to re-establish Arts for Labour nationally at the same time as designing a poster for his local constituency. He was not only a champion of the left, but believed passionately in arts that are inclusive and open to all. He will be sadly missed.
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