The New Art Gallery Walsall, which has been under threat of deep public funding cuts, has been saved by a four-year £3.5m grant from Arts Council England, which was announced today (27 June). The gallery is also considering a partnership with the University of Wolverhampton to secure its long-term future.
The £21m Caruso St John-designed gallery in the West Midlands opened in 2000 among the first of a wave of National Lottery-funded projects bringing contemporary art to the English regions. The hope was that it would boost the regeneration of Walsall. Its greatest treasure is the Garman Ryan collection, a gift from Kathleen Garman, the widow of the sculptor Jacob Epstein, which includes works by Van Gogh and Picasso.
The fate of the gallery looked very uncertain last November, when Walsall Council proposed cutting its annual subsidy from around £900,000 to zero by 2020. The reduction would force it to become self-sustaining or potentially close. Leading art-world figures, including the Tate director Maria Balshaw (then the director of the Whitworth and Manchester City Galleries) and the artist Cornelia Parker, wrote a letter to the Guardian newspaper protesting against the threatened closure, which they described as “a devastating blow to the life of the community”.
The decision was postponed earlier this year amid discussions with Arts Council England, the gallery’s other major funder. The Arts Council's latest grant will now ensure funding of £881,000 a year until 2022.
As part of the rescue plan, the gallery is looking to reduce its dependence on Walsall Council by becoming a partner with the University of Wolverhampton. The move would follow a model adopted by the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (Mima), in the north-east of England. Backed by Middlesbrough Council when it opened in 2007, Mima was transferred to the town’s Teesside University in 2013 after its local authority funding was reduced.