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Chief Executive’s Review - Year Ending 31st December 2015
2015 was my second year in charge of IHF and was marked by further progress in implementing organisational changes. To start with, we have laid the plans for governance reforms that will be introduced in 2016. Moving forward we will have two boards, a Trustees Board of reduced size that will meet six times a year and an Advisory Board that will meet once or twice a year. In addition, the new membership scheme goes from strength to strength and we already have more than 100 members. Membership of IHF entitles members to various benefits, but more than anything else it is a splendid way to demonstrate support for the Foundation and the work that it is doing. On a higher level a new Patrons’ Circle has been established under the chairmanship of Saman Ahsani; In the last year this group was able to enjoy dinners in the British Museum, the Courtauld and Tate Modern.
The highlights of the year were three conferences. The first, in January 2015, was on safeguarding cultural heritage in Iran. Although Iran has been spared from the appalling wonton destruction that we have seen over the last couple of years in Iraq and Syria, there is no room for complacency, as the rich cultural heritage of Iran is under threat from different forces, such as atmospheric pollution, development, and the construction of dams. A number of experts from around the world gathered to identify these threats and discuss possible measures to mitigate them. It was highly gratifying that three colleagues from Iran were able to join us, including Dr Mohammad Hassan Talebian, the Deputy Director of the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization. This conference was followed by another in December also on cultural heritage but concerned with the destruction of monuments and memory principally in Iraq, Syria and North Africa. Although these terrible crimes have not been perpetrated in Iran, many of the monuments in question have Iranian connections and what is happening in the Middle East beyond Iran is of great concern for all those interested in the cultural heritage of Iran. This conference attracted a great deal of interest and it is intended to publish the proceedings in book form as soon as possible. A new departure for us was a third conference in June on Iran’s medical heritage at the Royal College of Surgeons. Apart from highly informative lectures about early Iranian medical pioneers such as Avicenna, there were fascinating talks from contemporary Iranian medical practitioners, all of whom are trail-blazers in their different medical fields. These conferences were supported by a series of monthly events. We had lectures about subjects as diverse as Cyrus the Great, Jewish communities in Iran, Persian gardens, the Caspian horse, and musical traditions in Iran. A day of poetry readings from Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, Alan Williams and Narguess Farzad was particularly well attended. At the end of the year there was a celebration of Yalda, which is fast becoming a fixture in the annual IHF calendar. And it would be remiss of me not to mention the Norouz gala dinner, which as usual was a very enjoyable event. Entertainment was provided by the Iranian singer Arash.
Throughout the year IHF was pleased to continue working with its institutional partners. We were able this year to support posts and fellowships at the British Museum, the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Modern, the Courtauld Institute of Art, and the Universities of London (SOAS), Reading and Edinburgh. We set great store by this scheme, which is an effective way of cementing relations with partner institutions and provides the opportunity for mutually valuable collaboration and exchange of views. We also continued to give two types of grants, for academic research and for work on the contemporary arts. In the latter connection, the remit of the new committee on Contemporary Practices in Visual and Performing Arts was formalised during the year.
There has been just one staff change during the year. Alice Piller Roner left us in August to work for another charity, and we were joined in November by Massoumeh Safinia who was previously the holder of an IHF Fellowship at the British Museum. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all IHF staff for their efforts, as well as our honorary treasurer Bardia Panahy and honorary secretary Kimya Kamshad and the ladies of the Norouz Committee who have laboured so hard and given feely of their time on behalf of IHF. Lastly, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the Trustees who contribute generously to the running costs of IHF. Without them, the organisation would founder.
In the course of 2015 agreement was reached on the so-called nuclear issue, which it is hoped will usher in a new era of cooperation and collaboration between Iran and countries in the west, including on the cultural front. This could result in due course in the exchange of exhibitions, the organisation of joint cultural events, and so on. With its connections in Iran and the UK, the IHF is uniquely well placed to take a lead in any new initiatives, and we stand ready to provide help and support to any museum or university seeking to get involved in Iran. 2016 is the 20th anniversary year of IHF and I believe we are poised on the threshold of a bright future.
Dr. John E. Curtis, OBE, FBA
Chief Executive Officer