Sir Nicholas Serota, who presided over the launch of Tate Modern on London’s Bankside, has spent a career raising the public profile of modern art and defending state funding for the arts.
The 67-year-old Tate director, who has become a Companion of Honour in the Queen’s birthday honours, on Friday welcomed a Treasury settlement before the June spending review that will see arts and cultural bodies subjected to smaller cuts than many had feared.
A highly influential figure in Britain’s arts establishment, he oversees Tate Modern, the world’s most popular museum of contemporary art, with 5.3m visitors last year, as well as Tate Britain and the gallery’s outposts in St Ives and Liverpool.
Under his stewardship Tate has been assiduous in supplementing its state funding with commercial sponsorship and individual philanthropy; its government grant now accounts for 40 per cent of its income.
“Arts organisations have become incredibly entrepreneurial over the past 20 years,” he has said.
Educated at Haberdashers’ Aske’s school in north London, where he was head boy, and Christ’s College Cambridge, where he switched from economics to art history, Sir Nicholas cut his teeth as a museum director at Oxford’s Museum of Modern Art in the mid-1970s, before taking the reins at London’s Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1976.
Sir Nicholas has encouraged interest in new forms of expression in modern art, giving space to video, performance and other new media at Tate Modern. He opened a new chapter in the gallery’s history last year with the launch of the Tanks, the first galleries dedicated to film, installation and performance art.