The New Art Gallery in Walsall, in the West Midlands of England, is at risk of closure under cost-cutting proposals by the local council. The £21m National Lottery-funded gallery heralded a boom in regional UK art institutions when it opened in early 2000 in partnership with Arts Council England. The first major public commission for the architects Caruso St John—which earned them a nomination for the RIBA Stirling prize—was conceived by Walsall Borough Council as a force for urban regeneration and a home for the prestigious Garman Ryan collection, donated to the town in 1973. The gift from Kathleen Garman, the widow of the British sculptor Jacob Epstein, includes works by Degas, Van Gogh, Modigliani and Lucian Freud.
The council, which is under pressure to save £85m across the borough in the next four years, is now planning to reduce the gallery’s core funding by more than £500,000 between 2017 and 2020. The current subsidy of around £900,000 a year could be cut by £100,000 in 2017-18 and as much as £390,000 in 2019-20, according to a council report released this week. While there are no plans to make redundancies among the gallery’s staff of 24, the report warns that the free-admission institution “will have to operate on a more commercial basis and become self-sustaining… or may close.” A decision is due next February, when the council approves the final budget.
The gallery is seeking advice from the national funding body Arts Council England, from which it currently receives around £880,000 a year, before the next round of grant applications closes in February. The organisation recently announced a £622m budget that will boost the UK regions by 4% between 2018 and 2022, but “we cannot use that money to replace funding lost from local authorities,” says Peter Knott, the Midlands area director for Arts Council England. “We remain confident that our partners recognise the great value of our combined investments into art and culture in Walsall.”
Meanwhile, the UK arts community has expressed dismay at the announcement that one of Scotland’s leading public art galleries, Inverleith House in Edinburgh, is to close. On 18 October, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh said in a statement that the building in its grounds “will no longer be dedicated to the display of contemporary art” due to financial constraints. I Still Believe in Miracles, the current exhibition closing on 23 October and celebrating the gallery’s 30th anniversary, is likely to be the gallery’s last. A petition calling on the garden
and “all the key bodies involved” to reverse the decision has almost reached its target of 5,000 signatures.