Up to £800,000 will be ploughed into Walsall’s New Art Gallery in a bid to revamp the iconic building, under new plans revealed today.
It comes as Walsall Museum, also based in the town centre, is set to close to save £70,000 next year.
The proposals for the £21 million New Art Gallery, which was opened by the Queen in 2000, include improvements to the foyer and layout of the building.
Money for the project would come from Walsall Council, external sources and match funding worth up to £400,000 from the Arts Council. It is hoped to be carried out within the next few years if cash is allocated.
The New Art Gallery Walsall is seen as one of the borough’s flagship venues and is a key attraction in drawing in visitors to the town. But the proposed investment comes as the cash-strapped council needs to save £19m next year with services and jobs set to be cut. Critics said the six-figure plans were a ‘waste of money’, but council chiefs defended the cash injection.
A report to the council states: “To improve the experience of the arrival and welcome of visitors we are looking to revamp the foyer area, improving the comfort, accessibility and orientation for all visitors. The gallery is looking to reconsider the current layout of the foyer service point, signage and information, improve heating, visitor resources and facilities.
“This will truly reflect and introduce the qualities and excellence of the New Art Gallery Walsall.”
Walsall Council leader Mike Bird said despite the need to make savings they were still looking to invest, which includes the gallery. “It is the cultural oasis in the desert of Walsall,” he said.
“There is investment going into the town.”
However, Independent councillor Paul Bott said: “Our constituents don’t use the art gallery, it is a complete waste of money and investment in the town. Walsall Museum is part of the heritage of Walsall.”
The New Art Gallery narrowly missed out in its bid to host the Turner Prize in 2015, having made the final shortlist. It was estimated that between £2m and £5m would have been generated in the borough with all the visitors and extra attention the event brings. It comes as large numbers of visitors have flocked to the gallery to see a year-long exhibition of work by the notorious Damien Hirst.
A designated council working group was set up last year to look at the future of the landmark building. Sunday opening hours, which were previously scrapped, were later restored.
Walsall Museum in Lichfield Street has been earmarked to close as part of the proposed budget cuts.