The Public

Much of the recent press reports about The Public, have incorrectly stated the case for its closure, The Times on July 4th 2014 stated that it was closed 'due to lack of visitors'. This was clearly incorrect.

 

The Observer, on November 2nd 2014 said that its design made the 'display of art challenging'. Although it did continue to say that 'The Public was otherwise a great idea'.

 

Now The Public, a £72million black and pink themed gallery in West Bromwich, is to close just five years after it opened.

The reason is clear - The Public simply couldn't attract the Great British public.

The Daily Mail Nov 18th 2014

 

This website was created to record the real achievements of The Public .

 

The Public was a multi-purpose venue and art gallery in West Bromwich, West Midlands, England, at the forefront of a regional regeneration programme which – by late 2013 – had brought Europe's biggest Tesco, a multiplex cinema, restaurants and a new retail centre. It closed in November 2013.

 

Despite indications that the arts centre would be at the forefront of West Bromwich's 'Golden Future' on 9 May 2013 it was announced that Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council were in discussion with Sandwell College to potentially lease The Public for use as a sixth-form college. The College's own sixth-form was oversubscribed with six applicants for every place.

 

In 2012–13 there were 380,000 visitors to the building from all sections of society – an increase of over 40% from the previous year. In the final 12 months there were 451,000 visitors. The Public's mission was to be a place where people came to create and make things for themselves and to enjoy other people's creativity – an echo of Cedric Price's concept of a Fun Palace. In 2012, The Guardian ' s Robert Clark described The Public as "a playground" and that "maybe that's a not a bad role for modern galleries to embrace".

 

It is also home to 27 small companies as well as the Sandwell Arts Trust, who managed the building. Between them they employed around 120 people with a further 120 plus digital media apprentices.

 

An article in the previously critical Express and Star in 2012 stated that The Public was finally winning local people over and had found its purpose - when the odds of it becoming one of the region's success stories had seemed quite remote in the recent past.

 

“The café was friendly and very reasonable, and may I say, the carrot cake was the most delicious I have ever tasted!!” Trip Advisor

 

The Public closed on November 16, 2013.

 

"I visited one example, a wonderful arts and business centre in West Bromwich called The Public. An architectural showpiece, it cost millions and was full of interesting treats. But it closed late last year as the council couldn’t afford the upkeep. I suspect it would have had more chance of survival in central Birmingham, just down the road."

Evan Davies – Mind The Gap, March 2014

 

The Guardian was perhaps the most supportive newsaper. Stephen Morris wrote on August 12th 2103:

 

 

It has been a different kind of day for Nicky, a busy West Bromwich mother who normally spends any free time shopping for clothes or having coffee with friends. Instead she has been viewing work by the likes of Jeremy Deller, Martin Parr and Tracey Emin at The Public, the Black Country town's extraordinary arts and community space. "It's been great," she said. "I didn't really think I was into art but it's been fun and interesting. I'll definitely come back and I'll bring the kids next time."

 

She will have to hurry. On Wednesday Sandwell councillors will almost certainly vote to pull the plug on the funding that allows the arts trust running The Public to stage a dizzying array of exhibitions, shows and activities. About 60 staff will lose their jobs and the people of this corner of the West Midlands will have to bid farewell to a flagship, high-profile project designed to bring the arts to the region – and which attracted 380,000 visitors last year, five years after it opened.

 

The Labour-controlled authority argues that the move is simply financial; in the face of cuts, it claims it has no option but to stop shelling out about £30,000 a week – almost £1.6m a year – on The Public.

 

But Sandwell Arts Trust believes it is not just about money, suspecting the council has a "philosophical" problem with the centre. "I don't think the council thinks an arts venue is the sort of thing to spend money on in West Bromwich. It doesn't think it's relevant to West Bromwich," said trust managing director Linda Saunders. She argues passionately that the visitor figures prove otherwise.

 

About 10,000 people arrive every week and last month more than 50,000 viewed the Parr, Deller and Emin works, not to mention the photographs and paintings produced by keen amateurs, which are displayed here with the same care and affection.

 

Of these, 50% come from the Sandwell region and 40% from other parts of the Black Country and Birmingham.

 

"To think that art isn't for local people does them a great disservice," said Saunders. She fears that The Public may be the first high-profile casualty of cost-cutting across the country. "I worry that we may not be the last. This is a sign that a really serious crisis is hitting the arts," she said.

 

Prem, a 49-year-old carer, was watching the Tracey Emin film Why I Never Became a Dancer (sharing the space with some canoodling teenagers). "I think it's a huge backward step," he said. "There aren't a lot of facilities for the thinking man and woman in the Black Country. This was one of them."

 

It is not the first time that Prem has seen Emin's work. "I've seen her bed before but not in the West Midlands. Why should we have to travel to London, Liverpool or Manchester to see art like this?"

 

With a building designed by the star architect Will Alsop, The Public has attracted its fair share of criticism, with its opening delayed and over-budget. Some have disparagingly described the building as a giant pink shoebox; some cannot get on with the avant-garde art; others complain about its near £70m price tag. Arts Council England provided more than £31m and gave £600,000 a year to fund its artistic programme.

 

Richard Billingham, the photographer celebrated for his pictures of his alcoholic father and overweight mother, said he was "shocked" to hear that Sandwell council was planning to withdraw funding. He had a well-received exhibition at the Public earlier this year. "Places like this that show modern work are rare and important," he said. "You shouldn't have to go to London to see art. Besides, The Public has helped rejuvenate West Bromwich."

 

About 30 businesses hire space on the top floor, including the Learn Play Foundation, a not-for-profit company that trains young people in computer skills through gaming. It has 150 apprentices on its books at the moment. Managing director Ro Hands said the youngsters were proud to work in a landmark building. "This place is an inspiration to them," she said, adding that the company might move out of the borough if it has to leave the Public.

 

Dennis Patel, who runs a small IT company from The Public, said the building had helped arrest the decline of West Bromwich. "The town centre was just associated with pound shops, now people often think of The Public when they think of West Bromwich."

 

A campaign to save the centre has been launched but the fear is the council has made up its mind. The trust has been told that it will have to hand the building back to it at the end of November.

 

Sandwell council leader Darren Cooper accepted that visitor levels were at their highest ever but said that did not make it any cheaper for the council. "It's not been an easy decision to make. But the fact of the matter is the council can't continue to subsidise The Public. That money is council taxpayers' money. In the face of the cuts the council is facing from central government, this can't carry on."

 

The council says it is in talks with Sandwell College about the possibility of it taking over the building for a sixth-form and "lifelong learning centre with some arts provision".

 

Cooper added: "I know the building means a lot to many people – not just those who work there, but the people who enjoy the arts activities, the gigs, the cafe and the exhibitions. It has made a significant difference to many people's lives – including bringing work experience opportunities to West Bromwich and promoting the town. But we can't afford to continue running the Public in its current form."

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In loving memory of The Public