In spite of its grand opening on 28th June, the woeful financial situation at The Public in West Bromwich persists according to this morning’s Express and Star.
Whoever thought that this project would cease guzzling money from the public purse once its pink blobby doors were finally opened was sadly misled. It’s just one week since the big reveal, and already Sandwell Council are entering crisis talks regarding a £1million funding shortfall, and we can only hope that this isn’t the first of many.
According to the article, this figure could very well increase as council chiefs deliberate whether to fully kit out vacant office space in an attempt to attract potential tenants.
The council won’t disclose the actual amount lacking, and the meeting will be held privately as they insist that the issue is commercially sensitive. At present all Cllr Steve Eling, cabinet member for strategic resources, will admit is that the amount they need is less than £5million but more than £1million. Place your bets… (on The Stirrer website today claims the amount is as much as £3.5m!).
The few who have already experienced The Public have received it with “mixed” reviews. The building's defenders still insist they are trailblazing and providing something entirely 'unique', but emerging criticism suggests that there's a good reason this pattern hasn't been followed before.
One extended review by Ellis Woodman, writing for www.bdonline.co.uk – a website dedicated to architecture – expresses alarm that this project has been allowed to go ahead at all, with the author asking what this sort of interactive gallery is for in the age of the internet. Describing the press preview, he writes:
“I had met, what… half a dozen people over the past few hours? Probed on some issues, they had proved cagey — understandably so — but they had also given every indication of engagement, intelligence, sanity. Yet the building in which we were stood, the building on which some of them had spent seven years of their lives working, was one of the most staggeringly misconceived projects that I have ever experienced.
One might laugh, if the debacle wasn’t such an evident human tragedy. The building has been built in one of the poorest boroughs in the country, sapping funds from a town with no cinema or swimming pool. A wider package of regeneration is set to follow, but The Public has provided it with the wobbliest foundation imaginable. The building has cost £54 million, of which over £30 million has been contributed by Arts Council England, an organisation that recently terminated the funding of almost 200 arts organisations around the country; it has also committed to spending £500,000 a year running the place until 2011”
“In fairness, I should note that a fair part of the exhibition was — bizarrely — not yet up and running in time for the press view. But for the place to succeed, it will need to offer the visitor different experiences from those that they can have online. Almost everything I saw could have sat just has happily on a website.
A website also has the distinct advantage that it can be regularly updated. Of the works on show in The Public, the majority will be renewed only every three years. Quite how such a strategy will serve to lure visitors back for repeat visits is a mystery.
But don’t let me put you off. You’ve paid for this calamity, so you’d do well to get at least a fraction of your money’s worth. My only advice would be, if you are going, to go soon. It really needs the business and it won’t be there forever".