It is not just e-Disclosure which needs to find wider audiences. Institutions like the National Portrait Gallery also have to make their displays more accessible. The word “accessible” acquired politically correct connotations in the New Labour years, with public funds being handed out or withheld by reference to minority quotas rather than to actual need or interest. In more useful terms, accessibility often comes down to places being open outside normal working hours.
That is part of the rationale for the National Portrait Gallery’s Late Shift initiative which allows it to stay open on Thursdays and Fridays until 9:00 pm. The NPG has set up a partnership arrangement with FTI Consulting to facilitate this, and there was a party at the gallery last night at which FTI were the hosts.
One of the privileges of what I do is that standing around talking to people is work, and if that is done surrounded by interesting pictures whilst pretty girls bring champagne and canapés, then it is no less useful work – depending, of course, on who it is you are talking to. I spent most of the evening with Andrew Kennell and Nick Athanasi of FTI, both people whom I have known for a long time but rarely see (although Nick had been the one of the speakers at my Ely Place session the previous day), and I came away with lots of ideas to chew on.
Big companies like FTI have a wide ranging practice and much of what they do is, by its nature, concealed from view. An evening like this is an opportunity to promote accessibility to FTI’s own people as well as to the National Portrait Gallery. From my point of view, it is a chance to share views, not just about the technology, but about the ways in which clients, lawyers and technology providers can work together. The pack is being reshuffled, and components of the task will fall differently as between these players as economic pressures and advances in technology suggest new ways of working.
The biggest potential losers, I reckon, are the lawyers, as technology providers increasingly empower corporations to take more of the process into their own hands. FTI’s Acuity concept, with its punch-lines “You focus on legal strategy and leave the rest to us” and “We work with your outside counsel” are a good indicator of the way the wind is blowing.
I took advantage of the late opening hours to wander around some of the galleries on my way out. I always go first to the 19th and 20th century galleries, partly because they contain so many of the characters is made real by the Flashman novels – James Brooke, the White Rajah of Sumatra, for example, and the Indian Mutiny generals. There too are the politicians, their portraits displaying a gravitas wholly missing from the insubstantial figures of the present and recent past. The NPG’s pictures shape our perception of them, and we visualise Gladstone or Lord Salisbury as they were captured in these portraits. Perhaps Gordon Brown will be there one day, ideally caught at the moment when, with headphones on head and face sunk in his hands, he heard the recording of himself describing a lifelong Labour voter as “a bigoted woman”. That is how we will remember him, at that pivotal moment when he flushed away his career and the hopes of a party which had governed for thirteen years.
The National Portrait Gallery is my favourite such place in London. Like many people, I do not get much time to drop in. The partnership with FTI Consulting is a great idea for both of them, and I hope many people will take advantage of it.