Culture

Assembly to debate proposals for a contemporary art gallery and National Football Museum

Last week the Welsh Government published feasibility studies for both a contemporary art gallery and sport museum for Wales. Both studies conclude that the best way forward is not based around a brand new stand-alone museum building, such as the newly-opened V&A in Dundee. The contemporary art gallery study proposes a “distributed national model that builds on 6-8 existing and developing arts locations across Wales, along with a permanent central hub”. And the sport museum study recommends using Wrexham Museum as the home for an “appropriately scaled” National Football Museum for Wales, along with further work to promote Wales’s sporting heritage. Today the Assembly will discuss these proposals in Plenary. The Minister has said that he won’t express the Welsh Government’s view during this debate, but will do so following the meeting.

26 November 2018

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Last week the Welsh Government published feasibility studies for both a contemporary art gallery  and  sport museum for Wales. Both studies conclude that the best way forward is not based around a brand new stand-alone museum building, such as the newly-opened V&A in Dundee.

The contemporary art gallery study proposes  a “distributed national model that builds on 6-8 existing and developing arts locations across Wales, along with a permanent central hub”. And the sport museum study recommends using Wrexham Museum as the home for an “appropriately scaled” National Football Museum for Wales, along with further work to promote Wales’s sporting heritage.

Tomorrow, the Assembly will discuss these proposals in Plenary. The Minister has said that he won’t express the Welsh Government’s view during this debate, but will do so following the meeting.

Background: the Plaid/Welsh Government budget agreement in 2016

The story of these proposals begins with the 2017-18 budget negotiations between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government in 2016. The 2017-18 draft budget proposals included an additional £3 million of culture funding. This was money allocated to the Arts Council, the National Museum, the National Library and the Welsh Books Council, as well as supporting “feasibility studies for a national art gallery and a football museum in North Wales”.

In October 2017, the 2018-19 draft budget proposals included £5 million of capital funding allocated in 2019-20 to “take forward the work on the feasibility studies into a contemporary art gallery and a football museum”.

Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM, Minister for Culture Sport and Tourism, discussed  plans for the art gallery and football museum when he gave evidence to the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee about the 2019-20 draft budget on 8 November 2018.

There was, he said “no current thinking there, but there has been a lot of very effective action”, with the Welsh Government having received both feasibility reports. He stated that he “wasn’t going to take any decisions” until the Assembly debated the findings of these studies.

However, he elaborated:

This is not the nineteenth century; this is not even the early twentieth century. So, it’s not about putting buildings in Aberystwyth, and Cardiff, and Wrexham, and Bangor, and wherever, of necessity. I think there is a very important principle, which, as someone who has been involved in visual art stuff for many years, is that collections should travel and should not be in stacks in public buildings not seen.

He said that “early in the new year, we will be able to begin investing in the preferred options”.

In July 2017, whilst the football museum procurement exercise, was ongoing, Ken Skates AM, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport told Plenary :

Can I just assure the Member that the specification does state that the preferred location is in Wrexham or elsewhere in north Wales? I think it’s well recognised that north Wales would do well to have a sports museum or a football museum—a specialist football museum. It could potentially complement the football museum that exists in Manchester.

National Contemporary Art Gallery Wales: “a distributed national model”.

The National Contemporary Art Gallery study begins by discussing a 7-year programme of exhibitions launched by the Arts Council in 1969. It notes that “Almost fifty years after that ground-breaking programme there is still no dedicated, populist, national platform for modern and contemporary art in Wales”.

In 2008 a feasibility study for a National Gallery of Art for Wales and an options study for a National Centre for Contemporary Art were undertaken. Neither of the studies’ recommendations – to house the National Gallery of Art in a reconfigured Cathays Park site; and to house a National Centre for Contemporary Art in a white box space in Newport Riverside or Swansea – were taken forward.

Capital investments in the visual arts in Wales in the last decade, the current feasibility study’s authors felt, “fall short when compared to other nations”. There was a concern from consultees that “any new national entrant, requiring both major capital and ongoing revenue support might at best destabilise and at worst destroy the existing publicly funded ecology”.

Consequently, the central proposal in the report is:

Rather than endorsing a single new building to house and display contemporary art, we recommend a dynamic, distributed national model that builds on 6-8 existing and developing arts locations across Wales, along with a permanent central hub. This distributed model is heralded by a series of newly commissioned contemporary living artworks set in the landscape and among communities that are developed with creative producers, artists and communities across the nation.

In total, the preliminary capital costings for the study’s proposals are £50-£180 million. By way of context, the report notes the capital costs of other recent cultural projects:

  • V&A Dundee (£80m project designed by Kengo Kuma),
  • Courtauld Institute (£50m project designed by Witherford Watson Mann), and
  • Factory in Manchester (£110m designed by OMA/Rem Koolhaas).

In addition to this, the ongoing revenue costs are anticipated to be:

  • “The indicative annual operating expenditure for the centralised organisation co-developing and delivering Phases one and two, and establishing a Fellowship programme recommended below, would be in the region of £2.7 million minimum.”
  • “The annual operating expenditure of a physical national headquarters (Phase three) could range anywhere from £2.5m and up (e.g. £15m).”

The authors note that these operating costs are “significantly higher than the average annual operating expenditure of most visual arts organisations in Wales”. The main source of public funding for the arts in Wales is the Arts Council, which distributes about £30 million from the Welsh Government and £15 million from the National Lottery each year. The Arts Council’s total annual allocation for the visual and applied arts, the authors note,  amounts to less than the proposals in their report.

These proposals come in a difficult financial climate for arts organisation in Wales, explored in a separate blog post here.

Sports Museum for Wales: building on an existing museum in the “spiritual home of football”

Again, this report concluded that a big new building was not the answer. The authors felt that “a large scale, new infrastructure project for Wales would be unable to  generate sufficient income to be sustainable without a substantial level of subsidy”. This led to the conclusion that:

…to deliver a National Sports Museum in Wales, it would be more effective to enhance an existing museum with a relevant collection, to build on, adapt and make best use of extant  opportunities, facilities, funding, staff and expertise.

In a country with no national football stadium, the authors felt that Wrexham could lay claim to being “the spiritual home of football”. Consequently, they stated that Wrexham County Borough Museum  was a “a logical place to provide a home for a […] National Football Museum for Wales, also serving as a future hub for wider community outreach, learning and mobile exhibitions programmes”.

The estimated costs involved in developing the National Football Museum are far more modest than those for the National Contemporary Arts Gallery. The initial capital costs are estimated at £4.4 million, with additional revenue costs estimated at £144,500 a year.

The report also includes a number of other proposals to promote Wales’s sporting heritage. These include setting up a Sporting Heritage Expert Panel who would develop a “National Sporting Heritage Vision and Framework for Action”.

What’s next?

The Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism told the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee that he did not “believe any Minister” should make a decision “on major projects like this, which are of public interest, unless we have a proper debate”. And that although he would “not be able to respond with the Government’s view during that debate”, he would do so “as soon as possible after that”. He hopes that this will lead investment in the preferred options “early in the new year.”


Article by Robin Wilkinson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service