Derry kicks off 2013 as the UK's first City of Culture

Northern Irish MLA calls for joint Belfast-Derry gallery

Jonathan Knott, 09.08.2017
Ambition for national venue was stated in arts council’s strategic vision
A member of the Northern Ireland Assembly (MLA) has called for plans to build a “European standard art gallery” located in both Belfast and Derry to be stepped up.

South Belfast MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who was the country’s finance minister until its government collapsed earlier this year, made the call following a visit to the Middlesborough Institute of Modern Art (Mima) last week.

In a statement, Ó Muilleoir said that Belfast and Derry’s joint bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2023 would be boosted by an institution “on the scale of the Irish Museum of Modern ArtTate Liverpool, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston or, indeed, Mima in Middlesborough.”

He added that larger capital budgets recently granted to Northern Ireland meant that “now is the time to deliver on a proposal which has been kicking around since the 1990s”.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s strategic plan for 2013-18 says that “a new space is needed to show the indigenous collections of Irish and Northern Irish art”. The document sets a target for undertaking an economic appraisal for a dedicated gallery for Northern Ireland.

According to a 2015 Belfast City Council report, the country’s Strategic Investment Board completed a draft appraisal, which identified the preferred option as a two-site gallery in Belfast and Derry.

But a spokeswoman for the arts council told Museums Journal that these proposals were now on hold until discussions with other strategic partners could continue.

According to Ó Muilleoir’s statement, the capital cost of the twin sites was estimated at £38m but the net economic benefit over 25 years was estimated at £140m.

The MLA added that he had written to the country’s Art Advisory Panel asking it to explore how it might lead on the proposal for the new art gallery as part of the Derry-Belfast City of Culture bid, and that he would also write to other MLAs in South Belfast to ask for their backing.

Ó Muilleoir told Museums Journal that he had been “deeply impressed” by Mima’s values and its impact on the local community. He said that a national gallery in Northern Ireland would help to tell the story of peace in the country.

“Part of celebrating the peace, in my view, should have been an international standard, 21st-century art gallery,” he said. “Instead of doing that we have had a lot of reviews, analyses, consultants’ reports, briefings and so on.

“I would like the next government to really act on the oft-stated ambition to deliver this project,” he added. “Could you imagine the European Capital of Culture not having a 21st-century art gallery?”

Update 10.08.2017

A spokeswoman for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland provided a statement saying: 

"The arts council has advocated the case for a significant regional art gallery for Northern Ireland since the 1990s. It remains strategically important, as outlined within the council’s current five year strategy Ambitions for the Arts (2013-2018)

"An economic appraisal for a twin site approach with distinct but complementary galleries in Belfast and Derry was taken to a certain point of development. However the work is on hold while discussions progress with other strategic partners in Belfast, Derry and in government.  

"It is a fact that the arts and culture are significant catalysts in urban regeneration. The development of a national gallery, to show the rich indigenous collections of Irish and Northern Irish art currently held in trust on behalf of our citizens would, housed together, represent a major arts collection of international interest. Attracting visitors from across these islands and beyond to Northern Ireland is an ambition we share with others in government and in the public sector."


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Jonathan Gammond
Access , Wrexham County Borough Museum
10.08.2017, 17:20
I am going to Northern Ireland and Donegal on holiday later in the year. Hopefully the sun will shine, but as you know it does rain a bit over there. Can anyone on the other side of the Irish Sea recommend any museums worth visiting, you know, on that occasional rainy day?