The Countess of Wessex visits the Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield

Half a million people have crossed the bridge to The Hepworth Wakefield since it opened a year ago – including the Countess of Wessex.

The print version of this article appeared in the June 2012  issue of Yorkshire Life 

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Half a million people have crossed the bridge to The Hepworth Wakefield since it opened a year ago – including the Countess of Wessex.

Her Royal Highness officially opened Yorkshire’s award-winning art gallery almost a year after it opened to the public on May 21st 2011.Since then it has become one of the most visited galleries in the country, smashing its initial first year target of 150,000 visitors.

Local schoolchildren chatted to the Countess in the gallery’s learning studios before she was whisked away for afternoon tea with David Liddiment, chairman of The Hepworth Wakefield Trust, and architect David Chipperfield. She then enjoyed a tour – accompanied by eager members of the public – and officially unveiled a commemorative plaque in the foyer.

‘We’ve been very much looking forward to welcoming Her Royal Highness to celebrate and commemorate the opening of this world-class gallery in Yorkshire,’ said gallery director Simon Wallis. ‘Her visit offers a wonderful opportunity for us to showcase our world-class collection and gallery spaces, and reaffirm our campaign to become the art museum of the year in the Art Fund Prize 2012 (to be announced at the British Museum on June 19th).’

Speaking about The Hepworth’s landmark first anniversary, leading artist Antony Gormley said: ‘The Hepworth Wakefield is becoming a place of pilgrimage for all lovers of sculpture and, with the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds and Yorkshire Sculpture Park in West Bretton, is helping to make Yorkshire a place of inspiration for all.’

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His words were echoed by actress – and art lover – Katherine Kelly, a former Coronation Street star who has been wowing critics at the National Theatre.

‘It is tremendous that Wakefield is home to such a major new gallery,’ she said. ‘It’s a city I hold dear to my heart as I was schooled there in my teenage years. I only wish The Hepworth Wakefield had been around when I was studying A-level art.’

Sir Nicholas Serota, director of Tate, is also a fan: ‘The Hepworth is one of the most exciting and beautiful galleries in the UK. I think it’s a wonderful building and offers a wonderful day out for people to come and experience Wakefield in a new way.’

The gallery is not just important in terms of art though; it’s also at the heart of Wakefield’s regeneration as a city, attracting visitors and investment at a time when they would otherwise have been in short supply.

No wonder Councillor Peter Box, leader of Wakefield Council, can’t stop smiling. ‘This journey started with a visit from Prince Charles a decade ago,’ he said. ‘It’s fitting then that the official opening ceremony has had the royal seal of approval.’

The Hepworth Wakefield is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm, and from 10am to 9pm on the third Thursday of every month. Admission is free. For more information, call 01924 247360or visit hepworthwakefield.org.

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