The announcement that The Public gallery in West Bromwich would be charging £6.95 for entry, after having already cost the taxpayer around £51million, saw the West Midlands TaxPayers’ Alliance comment in the Express & Star, on BBC Radio WM and on the BBC Midlands Today news show, and now bosses have tried to deflect further criticism and entice visitors to the gallery by announcing a special offer.
Councillor Bod Badham, Sandwell Council’s planning and regeneration chief and one of the most outspoken defenders of the whole costly project, has told the Express & Star that over 1000 free tickets to the gallery will be given away over the coming weeks. How these tickets will be allocated is still unclear, but it seems that the council is now taking a belt and braces approach to ensuring they can boast over 1000 visitors through the building's doors within the first few weeks of its opening, something that surely hung in the balance after last week’s announcement?
But what lies beyond the building’s ‘wacky’ exterior is still very much under-wraps, and a visit to new the website can only serve to further confuse would-be visitors.
Somewhat unusually for an attraction that’s been billed as a gallery, www.thepublic.com is low on visuals and high on impenetrable verbiage, and as usual, they’re determined to capture those reluctants who would rather not spend their time and money at art galleries. Roadrunner and Wile E Coyote spring to mind…
“PARTICIPATE! We are dedicated to making change through art and participation. Our international programme will offer a creative, innovative and fun experience to local, national and international visitors and crucially, audiences who do not normally attend art galleries.
In our inquiry based business and programme models, learning is at the centre of all that we do. We strive to make that learning visible to visitors, participants, artists and stakeholders and to use it to inform and shape our practice. We shall perform a central role in 'place-making' at the heart of the regeneration of the Borough of Sandwell, offering essential social space within a landmark building, helping to re-define and add value to this place. “
Has anyone any idea just how learning is 'made visible'? Just when exactly is learning invisible? And if it was invisible, what would be wrong with that? And what – you must be asking – is ‘place making’? They've even put it in inverted commas as though they aren’t entirely sure what it means themselves.
Well actual in fact, the architect who coined the term 'place making' specified that he wasn’t referring to buildings (huge garish ones or otherwise), and was instead refering to the creation of parks, plazas and waterfronts for everyone to enjoy (cheap to build, free to visit. Unlike The Public).
Perhaps the artistic forces behind The Public should look-up their buzzwords before attempting to dazzle us with them...
They also pretty brazenly talk about adding value to the area, even after plundering the public purse for millions. Just ask the locals and they'll tell you that before it can 'add value' to West Bromwich,The Public first has to clear the high-hurdle of proving that it's worth what it cost.
Now considering the artistic minds behind The Public project are claiming to be banging the drum for progressive art and radical innovation, their first project is as hackneyed and outmoded as it comes. It asks you to tell a story in six words based on Ernest Hemingway’s famous “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”.
This is the literary equivalent of setting a Sudoku puzzle to mark the opening of a science museum, and is made even less original by the fact that Radio Four’s Today Programme launched this exact challenge to it’s listeners way back in February, inspired by the Six Word Memoir competition being run by the American Smith Magazine (who seem to have been roped into sponsoring The Public’s venture). Just typing ‘a story in six words’ into Google brings up thousands of results, proving that this is hardly pioneering stuff.
There’s also a website to accompany the competition (of course) at www.sixwordstories.co.uk, and though there’s little doubt that this sort of thing encourages participation amongst local people who fancy themselves as wordsmiths, it’s anyone’s guess why it needs to be facilitated by a multi-million pound gallery and public cash.
The most visited galleries in the country have four things in common: they don’t charge an entry fee, they don’t railroad the public into ‘participation’, they’re located in places that mean other attractions are accessible and - most importantly - the art is high-quality and widely-renowned.
By giving away free tickets, The Public will no doubt find local people crossing it’s threshold out of curiosity, but when all offers end and a family ticket for two adults and two children costs £20, those interested in showing their children some culture might prefer to purchase return tickets to nearby Birmingham for a total of £9.33 and visit the impressive collections at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the Ikon Gallery at Brindleyplace completely free of charge.