Trustees of Black Umbrella/Third Text Reply to Open Letter

Trustees of Black Umbrella, 30 August 2012

Trustees welcome your support for Third Text. We hope to allay your concerns through reaffirming that we have no intention of undermining the collective vision of Third Text and that our priority is to sustain its future. The Trustees are long supporters of both Rasheed Araeen and of the journal and have the highest regard for his achievements. Rasheed has not been ‘ousted’ from Third Text. Our decision that he should pursue his international role was made with full regard to Rasheed’s status as Founding Editor and to the current and long term needs of the journal and Black Umbrella Trust. The current dispute is perhaps a disproportionate response to a decision made with the best intentions for all concerned.

Trustees are of course accountable for the proper running of the organisation they represent, including administrative and financial transparency, contractual requirements and employer responsibilities. There were serious concerns with these issues which, though urgent and repeatedly voiced by Trustees, had not been addressed and had to be resolved. These long standing problems arose from Rasheed’s relationship with colleagues and from his refusal to disclose financial information. The issue is not, as is stated, about ‘funding strategies’, but about Rasheed’s attitude towards delivering what is required to retain public funding, his continued lack of financial transparency and, not least, his unacceptable behaviour towards his colleagues which threatened the survival of the journal.

Throughout the last five years, Rasheed’s approach to appropriate planning has been a major impediment to the continued funding of Black Umbrella Trust and to attracting new funding. He attempted a wholly unrealistic funding bid in 2011 which had no detailed programme or costing. This was drafted without consultation and gave the staff little time to prepare a credible funding application. It is to the team’s credit that in Rasheed’s absence abroad they prepared an appropriate application and funding was retained.

In April 2011 these difficulties led to the Trustees’ invitation to Rasheed to reconsider his role which unfortunately he rejected. His subsequent unacceptable dismissal of a colleague had serious financial and legal implications for Third Text. In July 2011 Trustees asked Rasheed to devolve managerial duties to the Editor of Third Text, Richard Appignanesi, in order to concentrate on important outstanding publishing projects, commissioning special issues and international work for Third Text.

We regret that again Rasheed refused this opportunity to further develop his role, free of the necessary but time consuming administrative burden of team management, business planning, preparing accounts and reports to the funders. Please note that while all attempts by Trustees in visits to him over the last year, individually and in pairs, to negotiate a way forward have met with rejection, Rasheed seems to have decided to continue to pursue an international role for Third Text. In September he intends to take back issues of Third Text to show at the Gwangui Biennale, South Korea and to travel to Hong Kong, Shenzhan and Shanghai to conduct workshops and to take part in panel discussions with reference to the work of Third Text. Our offer to formalise a role, which Rasheed is already undertaking, is not ungenerous in the present circumstances and financial context and it remains open.

We would also make some general points in answer to your concerns. From the start, Third Text has been a collective endeavour of its editors, contributors and advisors; it has not been and is not the province of any one person. The public subsidy that the magazine receives is not for an individual but for the whole collaborative project. The quality and uninterrupted production of the journal, especially over this last difficult year, is the collective achievement of the present Editorial team under Richard Appignanesi who has managed to work successfully with Rasheed for the last seven years. It should be noted that most of the editorial work over the past few years has been done by Richard and his team and not by Rasheed.

Trustees do not presume to be the ‘true interpreters’ of Rasheed’s vision or to threaten editorial integrity. It is not in the Trustees’ remit or in their interest to attempt to dictate editorial policy. We have never determined what Rasheed or the present Editor publishes in the pages of Third Text. The change in style and imagery of Third Text covers does not signal an intellectual shift. Indeed, it is an editorial decision not new to Third Text, many past issues carry cover pictures.

The quality and reputation of Third Text crucially rests on peer review. Trustees and the Editorial team were concerned that Rasheed had a disregard for this role of the Editorial Board and rarely consulted them. It is to our regret that the contribution to Third Text of both the Advisory Council and of the Editorial Board has been, at most, sporadic. It is unfortunate that with one or two notable exceptions, the Advisory Council has played virtually no role in shaping Third Text.

In conclusion, unacceptable management practices are not trivial matters, in any organisation. They have rightly been of fundamental concern to Trustees, to the Editorial team and to the funders. The Editorial team and the Trustees have substantive roles in the creative integrity, accountability and public face of Third Text. The Trustees’ sole aim is to support the continuation and the unique position of Third Text. It is important to reflect that an effective Board of Trustees is essential for maintaining charitable status and funding, and to the future of Third Text. We are very saddened that Rasheed has taken this adversarial path and that he does not seem to recognise that Third Text’s survival rests not only on his legacy, but on his succession. We would like to think that he is still open to persuasion. As supporters of Third Text, we hope that you might consider that the primary concern is to secure the stability and future of Third Text and its project.

This response gives the grounds for Trustees’ decision which was not taken lightly. An independent review of the management and governance of Third Text, commissioned by the Trustees, with support from the Art Council, is underway and will report in October.

Rene Gimpel, Paul Goodwin, Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton, Joanna Mackle, Professor Bhikhu Parekh, Ziauddin Sardar (Chair)
29 August 2012

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