Plans have been unveiled to transform the vacant IKEA building in Coventry’s city centre into a joint arts and culture facility.
The development could see the city council buy and convert the building, which last opened its doors to customers in March 2020, to create a multi-purpose collections and cultural hub.
The new collections centre would be created through a partnership between Coventry City Council, Arts Council England’s (ACE) Arts Council Collection, Culture Coventry Trust and Coventry University, in collaboration with the Coventry City of Culture Trust. Discussions have been underway for some months between the organisations.
If plans are approved, the site may become home to some of the country’s greatest works of art. The project would see ACE relocate the Arts Council Collection from two current collection stores, which are now at capacity, to Coventry.
The national collections centre would be a busy hub for art, servicing the rest of the country with exhibition loans, maximising efficiency in collection care and allowing the arts council to further explore public engagement opportunities with its collection.
Darren Henley, chief executive of the arts council, said: “ACE welcomes this announcement to move to the next stage in developing a major landmark collection centre in Coventry.
“The new facility would ensure that we not only position our current collection securely in the heart of this country, but also enable work with partners to continue supporting living artists, create increased opportunities for students to research our unique collection and, most important, ensure these works reach more people in more places around the country.
“The partnership in the new Centre also would be a fitting way to mark Coventry’s City of Culture legacy. We look forward to working with Coventry City Council and other partners to try to achieve this.”
Deborah Smith, director of Arts Council Collection, added: “Arts Council Collection is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and our strategy is to explore new public programming opportunities to present and support the work in our collection.
“We’re delighted that the new collection centre would allow for the continuing growth of our collection and for the increased learning of British modern and contemporary art through a public engagement programme that moves through the store and an integrated and collaborative creative studio, extending opportunities to work with collection centre partners and further afield.”
The redevelopment would also improve public access to Coventry’s own cultural and heritage collections. The site would accommodate space for Culture Coventry Trust to relocate some of the city’s collections that are not currently on display in its museums, the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum and Coventry Transport Museum.
Moving items from part of the remaining Whitefriars Monastery, a 14th-century Carmelite friary in Coventry’s city centre, would also facilitate opportunities to bring the Grade I-listed heritage building back into public use.
David Welsh, Coventry City Council’s cabinet member for housing and communities, which covers culture and the arts, said: “This exciting and amazing proposal really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create something Coventry people can be rightly proud of as well as a national and international centre of excellence that will be a lasting legacy from our year as UK City of Culture.
“A national collections centre would bring together the foremost national arts and cultural partners and their respective national collections alongside the city’s collections, to create a consolidated national base that would be at the heart of Coventry city centre.
“It would also free up and create exciting opportunities for the much-loved Whitefriars Monastery that has been closed to the public for too long, while our local teams would benefit from working alongside a national collection management team.”
All parties have expressed their commitment to creating an enduring legacy from Coventry’s year as 2021 City of Culture, and will be working with the Coventry City of Culture Trust and wider city and regional partners to develop the facility.
David Burbidge, chair of the Coventry City of Culture Trust, said: “Since our journey to becoming UK City of Culture began in 2015, we knew that a lasting legacy was important for long-term change in Coventry. Bringing national collections with international significance to Coventry will help to cement the city as a hugely important part of the UK’s cultural profile.”
The proposal is to be discussed and voted on by councillors at Coventry City Council’s cabinet and full council next week.