The UK’s first permanent immersive digital art gallery could close for good following the collapse of Coventry City of Culture Trust, which went into administration this week with the loss of 50 jobs.
The Reel Store is a legacy project run by the trust that has attracted thousands of visitors to its immersive exhibitions since opening in May last year. The gallery is now closed while administrators search for a buyer, and staff have been let go.
The gallery is in the basement of a post-war building that formerly housed the Coventry Evening Telegraph, and features a state-of-the-art exhibition space with an 800 square metre fixed projection mapping canvas and 14 laser projectors, accompanied by a spatially adaptive sound system.
Its most recent exhibition, which closed on 26 February, was The Life and Work of Frida Kahlo, a multisensory experience telling the life story of the Mexican artist in her own words.
The City of Culture trust, which oversaw the delivery of the City of Culture festival in 2021 and had been running a three-year legacy programme, announced this week that it had appointed administrators from Armstrong Watson after being unable to “find a solution to secure the future of the trust”.
Twenty-nine permanent staff and 21 casual workers have been made redundant across the city.
In a statement on 28 February, the board of trustees said: “We have been working to find solutions to the trust’s financial challenges and to secure the future of the trust’s legacy programme, including The Reel Store. Despite the efforts of all involved, we have made the incredibly difficult decision to move to the appointment of administrators today.
“We know that this news is devasting for many, particularly for team members and partners. We are also regretful of the impact this will have on the organisations and businesses involved.”
In addition to the closure of The Reel Store, funding for all other City of Culture legacy projects across the city has stopped.
The trust's assets have gone on sale, including intellectual property, physical assets, domain names and social media outlets. Most of the charity’s physical assets are held in The Reel Store.
Local politicians are demanding answers following the trust’s collapse. The mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, told BBC Coventry-Warwickshire that there should be a “proper investigation” led by the city council, while local MPs Zarah Sultana, Marcus Jones and Matt Western have also expressed concern about the situation, which Sultana described as “bitterly disappointing”.
The trust received a £1m loan from Coventry City Council last year. Councillors have reportedly been told that this is unlikely to be repaid.
The Charity Commission has confirmed that it has opened a compliance case into the Coventry City of Culture regarding financial concerns.
An emergency meeting to discuss the charity’s closure will be held by the council's Finance and Corporate Services Scrutiny Board on 9 March.