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West End Extra - by JOSIE HINTON
Published: 27 November 2009
A Tony Blair cartoon  by Peter Schrank is among those to have featured at the Bloomsbury gallery
A Tony Blair cartoon by Peter Schrank is among those to have featured at the Bloomsbury gallery
Cartoon gallery gets rubbed out

Venue that has offered a satirical snapshot of times is forced out of business by cash shortage

WHATEVER their view on public spending cuts, Europe or immigration, the one thing that unites politicians of all colours is their propensity to be ridiculed.
Whether it be Brown’s flabby facial features or Cameron’s schoolboy rosy cheeks, images on the walls of the Political Cartoon Gallery in Bloomsbury are famous for recording the British tradition of lampooning those in high places.
But after more than 30 exhibitions featuring work from the most esteemed cartoonists in the business, the Store Street gallery – the only one in the world dedicated solely to political caricatures – has been forced to close later this month.
Founder Dr Tim Benson, who will close the gallery’s doors for the last time on December 23, said sharp rises in rent and rates have made it impossible to stay open.
He said: “Britain is the home of political satire – it’s one of the few things we’re still good at. But we don’t get any funding from anywhere, despite being the only gallery of this type anywhere in the world.
“Our rates have doubled in five years to £11,000 and the rent has just gone up to more than £30,000. We just can’t afford it.”
Since it opened in 2004, exhibitions at the gallery have charted the history of both the Labour and the Tory parties as well as exploring Tony Blair’s legacy, the Iraq war and Obama’s first days in power.
Legendary names including Sir David Low, Leslie Illingworth and Philip Zec are among the artists to be featured while politicians such as Ken Livingstone, Roy Hattersley and Norman Lamont have appeared to open exhibitions.
Among the most pop­ular shows were Browned Off: Gordon Brown in cartoons, Blair’s Legacy! A cartoon history of the Iraq War, and Yankee Doodles! President Obama in cartoons. Dr Benson said: “It’s rare to have something as unique as this in your area.
“Across the country globalisation is killing the high street, everywhere you look it’s the same old shops. They should be bending over backwards to get us to stay.”
He said the biggest problem was lack of external funding which means all exhibitions must either be sponsored or run as commercial sales.
“That means you’ve got to buy 50 or 60 drawings before you’ve even started,” said Dr Benson. “And you’ve got to have exhibitions based on the here and now, current politicians.”
He said he now plans to move away from London. To raise money for new premises, a closing down sale starting on December 2 will offer half-price original cartoons.
Dr Benson added: “This isn’t the end, we’re just changing the format. It’s a real shame, but things run their course.”
Before it closes, the gallery will host the Cartoon of the Year Awards on December 10, which will be presented by Tory MP Alan Duncan.

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