Midlands museums join forces in cultural tourism drive

New building opens at Harley Gallery
Jonathan Knott
Major exhibitions at four venues in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire launched last weekend, as the second part of a project designed to boost cultural tourism to the region and help attractions share audiences.

The exhibitions in the Grand Tour Season Two explore themes related to the region’s history and culture. The project is inspired by the 17th-18th century tradition of the European Grand Tour, a rite of passage for aristocratic young men.

The venture is a partnership between the Harley Gallery on Welbeck estate in Nottinghamshire, Nottingham Contemporary, Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, Derby Museums, Experience Nottinghamshire and Visit Peak District and Derbyshire.

The project was granted £350,000 from Arts Council England (ACE) as part of the Cultural Destinations programme.

On Sunday the Harley Gallery opened an exhibition of collages by the pop artist Peter Blake, famous for creating the cover for the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and another show of work in different media by the artist Rose English, who is known chiefly for performance art.

Alongside its Grand Tour exhibitions, the gallery also opened a new building to display the Portland collection, built up by the owners of Welbeck since the 17th century. The collection includes works by Michelangelo and Van Dyck, as well as miniatures dating back to the 16th century.

Nottingham Contemporary opened the largest ever exhibition in the UK of work by the conceptual artist Simon Starling, who won the Turner Prize in 2005. The show includes Blue Boat Black, for which the artist made a boat from a Victorian display case, discarded by the National Museum of Scotland, and used it to catch fish off the coast of Marseille. The vessel was then burnt to create charcoal, which was used to cook the fish.

Speaking to the media at Nottingham Contemporary on Friday, Starling said that he aimed to “interrogate the idea of making”.

Derby Museum and Art Gallery has an exhibition themed around the artist Joseph Wright’s “formative years” in Italy in the 18th century, and Chatsworth House is showing art and objects related to the Grand Tours of the Devonshire family, which owns the house.

All the Grand Tour exhibitions run until June, except for the Chatsworth exhibition, which is open until October.

Alongside the major exhibitions are a range of fringe events including a porcelain exhibition at Royal Crown Derby, and more of Starling’s work at the Backlit Gallery in Nottingham.

The first season of the Grand Tour project, featuring work by contemporary artist Pablo Bronstein and architect Rem Koolhas, was held from July to September last year.

At a launch event at Derby Museum and Art Gallery, Tony Butler, the executive director of Derby Museums, said: “The Grand Tour combines our two counties’ great treasures and heritage with a sense of curiosity, adventure and provocation.”

The Duke of Devonshire, the custodian of Chatsworth House, said that the support of the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for the region over two years had been “absolutely crucial” to the project.

Devonshire added: “I hope that the commercial success of the Grand Tour, measured in tourism pounds, will encourage the LEP to support similar projects that help to drive the cultural tourism agenda”.

Peter Phillips, the chair of ACE Midlands, said that the organisation’s investment in the project was “helping arts and cultural organisations build strong relationships with regional tourism boards to fuel local economic growth”.

He urged local councils to look at the example of programmes like the Grand Tour and “think of the social, economic contribution that their cultural assets can make to their own strategic aims”.

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