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People power saves Caruso St John gallery

Walsall gallery caruso st john flickr gillie rhodes crop
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The future of Caruso St John’s seminal New Art Gallery (NAG) Walsall looks to have been secured after a backlash against council proposals to slash its financial support for the building

In October the future of the acclaimed gallery was thrown into doubt, just a week after the practice won the 2016 Stirling Prize for its Newport Street Gallery.

Walsall Council had proposed cutting the funding for the facility by 70 per cent as part of a drive to save £86 million from its budget over the next four years.

But the suggestion sparked protests outside council meetings, and an online petition opposing the move garnered more than 6,500 signatures.

Council leader Sean Coughlan said: ‘We have listened to the people, communities and businesses of Walsall and taken on board what they have said very carefully.

‘As a result, we have amended around a quarter (25 per cent) of our initial proposals and saved around 90 jobs in the process.’

He acknowledged that there had been ‘significant interest’ in the New Art Gallery consultation.

The local authority currently gives £470,000 a year to the gallery as well as subsidising the ‘central and property costs’, taking its total annual financial commitment to about £900,000.

But it denies that its original funding plans for the gallery would have led to its closure.

Documents presented to councillors earlier this month said: ‘The proposal was not to close the NAG but to seek for it to operate on a more commercial basis and become self-sustaining over the period of the medium-term financial outlook.’

However, following the consultation, the council has decided to reduce the scale of the cuts to gallery funding from £490,000 to £150,000 over three years. It will now develop a new business model for the gallery.

It can honestly be said, this time around, people have influenced the budget

The council’s budget plans also include provision to upgrade the building’s management system and facilities, paid for with £88,000 from external sources, including the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Ian Shires, portfolio holder for agenda for change at the council, added: ‘Some of the proposals we put forward were controversial and received the response we expected but at least people could understand the position we’re in.

‘That sparked the interest we needed and sparked a two-way conversation. It can honestly be said, this time around, people have influenced the budget.’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I wonder if George Osborne's successor as Chancellor of the Exchequer has investigated ways that central government could help assist in life support for this type of obviously worthwhile arts facility?
    It would surely be so much more worthwhile for the country as a whole if the government could help to support this type of cultural initiative rather than to provide crony-driven aid for the garden bridge over the Thames.

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