The New Art Gallery Walsall opened in 2000. Image (c) Graig Holmes photography

New Art Gallery Walsall at risk as council faces £86m cuts

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 24.10.2016
Gallery one of a number of West Midlands institutions facing cuts
The New Art Gallery Walsall in the West Midlands may be at risk of closure under budget plans published by Walsall Council last week.

The council, which has to find £86m savings over the next four years, is proposing to cease all funding for the gallery, a £21m landmark designed by the architect Caruso St John and opened by the Queen to mark the millennium.

Ahead of the budget consultation, council leader Sean Coughlin warned that the city could be left with “one library, no youth service, no art gallery and no performing arts centre” in four years’ time.

“There is no escaping the fact that our journey continues to be fraught and will be filled with ever more uncomfortable decisions,” he said in a statement earlier this month.

The artist Bob and Roberta Smith, who was the gallery’s artist-in-residence for two years, condemned the proposal on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row last week.

“It’s a horrendous thing to consider closing that gallery,” he said. “If that gallery closes all those millennial project galleries are up for grabs by councillors who just think that local collections are treasure houses waiting to be sold at Sotheby’s or Christie’s.

“It would be a complete and utter disaster for the arts in Britain. It would be the end of the idea that working people should enjoy and participate in the arts in this country.”

A council spokesman said: “The council fully appreciates that the art gallery is much loved by those who use it, however, like many councils across the country this authority can’t ignore the fact that savings have to be made.

"This is why we will be consulting with our public on all the budget options for the gallery. No final decision has been made, nor will be made until we have listened to our residents, service users and partners alike to find the best available option.”

The council is also proposing to move Walsall Leather Museum and the Local History Centre to the town's central library building in order to save £360,000 a year, as well as closing fifteen smaller libraries.

In 2015, cuts forced the closure of the council's only other museum, Walsall Museum.

The council has put the plans forward for public consultation and will announce its final budget in December.

Elsewhere in the West Midlands, the City of Wolverhampton Council is proposing to save £200,000 by severely restricting opening hours at Bantock House, as well as reviewing opening times at Bilston Craft Gallery, its archives service and the Central Art Gallery.

This would enable the council to cut operating costs by introducing a “more flexible staffing structure” whereby staff could work across multiple sites over seven days a week.

Under the proposals, Bantock House, a historic Edwardian mansion that includes a museum and gardens, would go from opening Tuesday to Sunday to opening during weekends and bank holidays only.
 
The council also plans to take a more commercial approach to its cultural facilities in order to generate more income.

Museums are also in the firing line in the neighbouring county of Warwickshire, where the county council is consulting on a 43% cut to its Heritage & Culture Warwickshire (HCW) service.
 
Programmes and staffing at the service have already been reduced but £261,000 in savings still needs to be found. The service is proposing to to stop public access to the ground floor exhibition at St John’s Museum, Warwick, and reduce opening hours at Warwickshire County Record Office.

HCW also plans to explore commercial and private hire options outside normal opening times at Market Hall Museum, which is currently undergoing a £1.14m refurbishment.

A survey on the council’s plans is underway and closes on 31 October.

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