It was a very special honour for your correspondent to be invited to round off the speeches and declare the toast at the packed party to celebrate the wonderful Jenni Lomax, who is stepping down after 26 years as the director of Camden Arts Centre. Leading the plaudits for one of the most universally loved and admired members of the art world in London—and way beyond—was Sir Nicholas Serota, with whom Lomax worked as an education officer during the 1980s when he was director of the Whitechapel Gallery. As well as praising the way in which Lomax turned around a down-at-heel community art centre into a beacon of artistic excellence that always places the artist at the centre of everything it does, the former Tate director and now chair of the Arts Council also revealed that his allegiance to Camden stretches back to when, as a Hampstead schoolboy, he had done his A-level revision in its library. Another notable speaker was the artist and current Max Mara art prizewinner Emma Hart, who caused much mirth by relating how one snooty art worlder had described her education workshops at the centre five years previous to her solo show at Camden in 2013 as “career suicide”.
There was more laughter—and some tears—from many of the several hundred strong crowd, including Lomax herself, as an abundance of stories unfolded about the extraordinary vision, rigour and generosity of spirit with which she infused her quarter century-plus at Camden, along with her legendary dedication to polishing the brass nameplate and—as witnessed by this writer—scrubbing its floors. Even though the summer holidays are now in full swing, the list of attendees covered every element of the art world with a particularly strong representation of artists: Antony Gormley, Richard Wentworth, Jeremy Deller, Cornelia Parker, Yinka Shonibare, Mark Wallinger, Anna Barriball, Anya Gallaccio, Bonnie Camplin and Humphrey Ocean, to name but a few. Truly an extraordinary evening and the end of an era (although Lomax did cause a sigh of relief by assuring everyone that “I won’t be far away”). And even the elements intervened when, once the speeches were over, a dramatic thunderstorm caused the heavens to open and brought everyone inside from the garden and onto the dance floor.