The Evil Imp

Harder Than It Used To Be


The basic principals of subsidising art are, fundementally, to make that art happen when otherwise it would not and to make that art accessible to people whom otherwise could not access it for financial or other reasons.

Let us regale you then with the tale of the confusingly monikered “The Public” art gallery in West Bromwich, a particularly grim part of the UK also know as The Black Country.

Putting aside the fundamental problem that the building itself looks like a cardboard box where the holes for the windows have been cut out by a five year old, it is a perfect example of why so many people become livid at the very mention of the the word “subsidy”.

The gallery was constructed using a huge amount of Lottery (or Lotto) funding, the total cost, when it was finished, was £52million (US$102million), about £20million over budget. Arts Council England (ACE) played a large part in handing over the money to make the whole thing possible.

Despite mounting problems and dispatching numerous people to see what was going wrong ACE continued to pump millions more into the project.

You would imagine then that this building is a gleaming edifice of all that is wonderful in the arts and the creative community as a whole! Not even a bit of it because “The Public” never actually opened.

The gallery went into liquidation before it was even finished, two years ago, and has remained closed ever since while people in suits and ties filled out forms, held meetings and tried to explain why a £52million pound tin box in one of the UK’s most depressed areas didn’t actually work.

Let’s pause for just a moment because you have to give the people behind this catastrophe a muted round of applause since it takes a very special kind of incompetence to bankrupt a project before it’s even started.

Now, in 2008, the building is set to finally open after being taken over by the local council (something which should immediately set alarm bells ringing), having spent further millions to prop up this hugely misguided project.

At least the thing is open though, so all the problems are solved, right?

Again, not so fast dear reader because this publicly financed, publicly funded art gallery/artists space/community centre is going to charge “the people” £7 (US$14) each just to go inside. If you come in, pay your money and go back outside again then you will have to pay to come back in. That money is not a membership fee, it’s a ticket price!

As you can imagine, the great unwashed are not amused. Not only did it cost tens of millions to build, save and keep running you now have to hand over yet more money just to get in. This latest debacle should leave no doubt in your mind as to why people get so thoroughly irritated about public money being used to finance what is, on the face of it, gross stupidity!

It’s hard enough defending subsidy of worthy projects executed by talented individuals
from the philistines and the right wing hacks. If ACE and the rest of the people involved with actually trying to do things for the arts could try a little harder not to make that job impossibly difficult then we would very much appreciate it.

The next time somebody, anybody, anywhere gets the idea into their head that a multi-million pound art gallery is going to cure the social deprivation woes of a local community please feel free to stick your head in a bucket of ice water before anybody hears you and takes your ideas seriously!

Should you wish to visit this “space” then feel free to find relevant information on their website, such as it is, apparently £52million doesn’t buy you a decent website designer!

[ The Public ]