Forest for Change at Somerset House. Green leafy trees fill the courtyard. In the background you can see the London skyline and blue skies.

Reekie's Round-Up 2021

Jonathan Reekie CBE

20 Dec 2021

Somerset House director Jonathan Reekie shares his annual round-up of cultural highlights from the year gone by at Somerset House.

The year started badly for most of us. Our wonderful exhibition Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage, couldn’t re-open, so the first major public event was…

Now Play This

This four-day virtual festival of experimental games for people of all ages to enjoy from home. This year’s edition, presented as part of London Games Festival, explored the climate crisis through games and play, inviting audiences to creatively interrogate the ecological issues faced worldwide today.

Future Producers

Our Future Producers programme providing 18–30-year-olds the paid opportunity and space to explore creative avenues had to stay online for the first half of the year, working with Somerset House Studios residents Comuzi and Superflux. In the second half they went irl with projects coinciding with No Comply and then a collaboration between Valeria Salinas Toro working with artist Rene Matić exploring Beano. 

This plus Upgrade Yourself, our series of careers talks online, and the Kickstart programme offering eight young people 6-month placements here at Somerset House, meant that our Engagement & Skills team helped support much young creative talent at a time when it’s harder than ever to forge a career in our sector

Black Business Incubator

In 2019 I had a chance encounter in a corridor in New Wing with Studios resident Akil Benjamin of Comuzi. This led to the Black Business Incubator being launched at Somerset House, and it’s gone from strength-to-strength, starting with 15 members, now 50, all contributing to the energy and life of the Somerset House creative community.

London Design Biennale

The London Design Biennale by some miracle happened in June, the first major international cultural event in London since Collect in February 2020. The centrepiece was Es Devlin’s Forest for Change, and no, it’s not true that she had the idea when I told her you can’t have greenery in the courtyard!

Pollinator Pathmaker

Two artists who were in 24/7: A Wake Up Call For Our Non-stop World produced vital new works. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, who is resident at Somerset House Studios, unveiled the Pollinator Pathmaker, a 55 metre-long "living artwork" for bees (for Eden Project and COP26). Benjamin Grosser’s show at Arbyte Gallery included Order of Magnitude, his epic supercut of Mark Zuckerberg, seen in 24/7, but also Tokenise Me, thinking about how we can resist the environmental destruction and financial speculation of NFTs.

No Comply

No Comply finally opened a year later than planned, exploring the sport of skateboarding and its important influence on communities all over the world. Simultaneously, we watched the antics of the skateboarders at the Tokyo Olympics and in September a skatepark was set up on the newly pedestrianised and traffic-free Strand Aldwych.


Another 2019 chance encounter at Somerset House with composer and musician Anna Meredith led to Dodge. Originally planned as a Covid-safe Skate 2020 replacement, it finally happened in August, bringing alive the Edmond J.Safra Fountain Court with the sound of dodgems, Anna’s electrifying music, Yinka Ilori’s vibrant designs and Nick Ryan’s sound design. Much entertainment was had by all.

AGM 2021

AGM was a celebration of 5 years of what has become one of Somerset House’s crown jewels, Somerset House Studios. It was doubly special because the St Mary-le-Strand church hosted performances of ‘Latent Joy’, a new music collaboration within the Studios community, led by artists Paul Purgas and Vivienne Griffin, featuring Flora Yin-Wong, rkss, Joe Namy, Nik Nak and Annie Goh.

We Are History

We always mark 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair with an exhibition of our own and this year we did something a little different with a group show called We Are History, exploring race, colonialism and environmental change, featuring 11 artists with links to Africa, the Caribbean and South America. We were thrilled that it recently won the Time Out sustainable event of the year award.


The Walk

The Walk produced by Good Chance, crossed Waterloo Bridge to Somerset House, with Little Amal being entertained by dancers from Sadlers Wells in the Edmond.J Safra Fountain Court. She was both fragile and powerful against the architecture of Somerset House and the crowds of people following her. The apparent simplicity of her epic journey translated into one of the most moving and memorable artistic events of our times.

Culture From Further Afield

Re-opening and running Somerset House in the times of Covid has kept everyone busy and this has meant that experiencing cultural events elsewhere has been far too limited. Three highlights book end my live cultural year, Organ Morgan at the Moth Club in mid-May, my first live music for 15 months and more recently two brilliant solo shows, Catherine Yass at Ambika P3 and Lubaina Himid at Tate Modern.

Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules

Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules has been a huge audience and critical success. It’s much more than a show plotting the cultural and social history of a British icon. Andy Holden’s curation has made it into one of the most original contemporary art shows, as well as an art work in it itself.  It’s a shining example of how Somerset House does things differently, breaking cultural rules.