Walsall Council seeks partner for running New Art Gallery

Jonathan Knott, 13.09.2017
University of Wolverhampton is in talks with council
Walsall Council is seeking a partner to help it fund and manage the town’s New Art Gallery.

In a statement last week, the council said it had been agreed at a cabinet meeting in July to “undertake a procurement exercise to find a new partner to share the costs of the gallery and help it develop over the next ten years, potentially outside of the council".

The authority said that it was interested in receiving expressions of interest “from the education sector, companies or philanthropists”.

It is understood that the possibility of partnering with a university has been discussed, although the council did not confirm this.

A spokeswoman for the University of Wolverhampton, which has a campus in Walsall, said that the institution was “in talks” with the council about the future of the art gallery, but said that she was not aware that formal expressions of interest were being invited.

A prospectus which is being made available to interested parties says that the council “would prefer to partner with a trust, charity, non-profit distributing organisation, or a body that does not have the generation of profit as its primary purpose”.

It is also “keen to ensure that a high quality cultural programme of activities and events is maintained” and asks applicants to specify their organisation’s “experience and capabilities in occupying, developing and operating facilities that have some similarities with the New Art Gallery Walsall”.

The prospectus says that the council will not be able to sustain its existing level of funding beyond the next four years, and that the long-term strategy will be to reduce the gallery’s dependency on a council subsidy. 

The deadline for receiving expressions of interest is 25 September. The council plans to consider these at a cabinet meeting in October, before potentially beginning a formal procurement exercise.

Prominent figures in the arts world rallied behind the gallery last year when it emerged that the council was considering withdrawing its entire revenue subsidy of £470,000 by 2020, putting the gallery's future in doubt.

But following a consultation, the council approved a smaller reduction of £130,000 over the same period earlier this year. In June, the venue was also granted £3.5m over four years from Arts Council England (ACE) in its 2018-22 national portfolio settlement.

Walsall council’s cabinet portfolio holder for community, leisure and culture, Ian Shires said: “We’re obviously in a very difficult position with local government funding and need all the help that we can get. The council has a commitment to adult social care and protecting children, but we also need to empty the bins and keep the streets clean.

“Having made some difficult decisions in the last year the council now needs to find new partners who are willing to bring their expertise, knowledge and funding to Walsall.”

Shires described the ACE funding settlement as “very welcome”, but added: “We need to balance the books to achieve our savings target of £86m over four years to 2021.

“To put people’s minds at rest, the building and the collections will remain in the ownership of the council.”

A statement from Ian Oakes, the deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Wolverhampton said: “Given the university’s campus in Walsall we are in continual discussion with the council on how we can maximise the impact of the university in Walsall.”

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