Museums United Kingdom

Politicians’ u-turn spells the end of The Public

The £67m arts centre in English Midlands due to close in November

Sandwell council has been holding talks with a local college that wants to re-use the building

The Public, a £67m arts centre in West Bromwich will close, Sandwell Council announced today (9 August). Designed by the architect Will Allsop, the controversial centre in the English Midlands—a flagship project to increase access to the arts—opened five years ago after a difficult and expensive birth. It received more than £31m from Arts Council England (ACE) before it opened its doors.

Despite proving popular, the centre is due to shut on 30 November, Sandwell Arts Trust has been informed. The trust runs the Public, which attracted 380,000 visitors last year, on behalf of the council. As well as funding from the council, the trust receives £200,000 a year from ACE for the artistic programme. ACE funding will end if the centre closes.

Public spending cuts were to blame, said Sandwell Council’s leader, Darren Cooper, in a statement. He originally supported the project, although in May he told the Birmingham Mail that in private he always had doubts.

The council has been holding talks with a local college that wants to re-use the building, leaving only a small space for art exhibitions.

In a statement released today, Cooper said: “The overall cost [of the Public] to the council is currently about £30,000 a week… That money is council taxpayers’ money. In the face of the cuts the council is facing from central government, this can’t carry on.” Paul Slater, the chief executive of Sandwell Arts Trust, said: “We are very disappointed that financial circumstances have resulted in the council making this decision.”

Update: a spokeswoman for ACE says: "It is disappointing that the Public cannot be sustained as a designated space for arts and culture in its current form but we will continue to work hard with our partners to ensure that the people of the Black Country have access to great art and culture." She says that ACE is reviewing its funding after the council's decision.

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