It’s unlikely many are shocked by today’s news that the Arts Council have granted The Public gallery in West Bromwich the £3million it all but promised, “subject to business plans”, as a sort of sorry when it ‘reluctantly’ withdrew from bankrolling the project in January this year.
Now the gallery’s promoters have all guns blazing again, “it’ll be open this summer” they insist, but it all sounds very familiar to the beleaguered locals who’ve heard the cry ‘wolf’ three times before. Just a year ago Director David Clarke promised the same thing, before that in 2007 we were told there was a spring 2008 deadline for the launch and previous to that, believe it or not, the gallery was all expected to be up and running in 2005.
We’re often told in illustrative language how difficult this project has been to realise, and each and every time more ‘technical problems’ have reared their heads the taxpayers’ purse has been raided in a fraught attempt to finally bring the embarrassment to an end. But it turns out The Public is a bucket with a rather large hole in it, and it doesn’t matter how much topping up is done in financial terms, the problems just refuse to go away.
Sandwell Council now have sole responsibility for the gallery which won’t inspire those familiar with their work, and a new company has been set-up, Sandwell Arts Trust, to run The Public on the authority’s behalf. So more head-scratching to come...
We can’t be sure how much Sandwell are putting into the pot to resurrect this disastrous venture, put we’ve had their assurances that:
“All the money we need to run the arts centre until 2011 is in place. Sandwell Council will not be asking the taxpayer for more money" (E&S)
Halleluiah - sounds great! But while sceptics might not question the sincerity of this statement, they have every right to lack faith in the delivery as this gallery – the main feature of which is not even open and is reportedly outdated – has continued to leak money year after year and accumulatively cost local and national taxpayers the earth.
In a recent Sunday Times article about the gallery Arts Council spokeswoman Louise Wylie entered the debate defiantly:
“We should be ambitious and visionary. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t”
This might be rousing for some within the creative industry, but for most ordinary people throwing millions at something whilst accepting it might be money down the drain really shouldn’t be an option during a recession. Times are hard enough, and experimenting with such large amounts of cash on a conspicuous and reportedly crack-pot gallery like this is tantamount to throwing offensive hand-gestures at local residents.