Richard Warren

"Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Garman-Ryan collection under threat at Walsall

Here we go again.

Quite a few posts on this blog have been focused around the excellent New Art Gallery in Walsall, a prestigious building opened in 2000 at a cost of shed-loads, which houses an extraordinarily fine permanent collection based around the amazing Garman-Ryan Collection given to Walsall in the ‘seventies by Kathleen Garman, Jacob Epstein’s widow and a Black Country girl born and bred. The Gallery also houses an important Epstein archive.

Astonishingly, the future of the Gallery is now in jeopardy. Under severe financial pressure from the government’s austerity programme, the Lib-Lab coalition running Walsall Council is floating a draconian withdrawal of funding which, it seems to me, would bring inevitable closure. More detail down below, but meanwhile, if you’re interested, here are some readable links with fuller stories, including (end of the list) one to a petition to save the Gallery:

BBC news     The Art Newspaper     The Guardian   The petition

Finally, as promised, the small print. Here’s the relevant bit from the Council’s horrific “Summary of Revenue Policy Savings by Portfolio for Consultation.” (Click to enlarge if need be, or skim down to my closing comments.)


So, a £100K kick up the bum next year to wake things up, then a year’s grace, then in 2019 the £470K subsidy will be reduced at a stroke to £80K. No matter how they dress this up as an “opportunity” (don’t they always?), I just can’t see enough “new business” or “philanthropic support” arriving by then to plug a gap of such proportions, even with sensible trimming. Something brave and creative is needed from the Council here, with a commitment not to go for closure while solutions are being found.

A note on “environmental implications”, further on in this document,  anticipates the Gallery building being “disposed of”. What happens then to the collection? I’ve no idea what legal provisions may have hedged in Kathleen Garman’s gift to the Borough, but if they’re not watertight and more, I can see Sotheby’s rubbing their grubby hands already.

I’ve no intention of allowing this issue to hijack the blog as happened with Mandergate a couple of years back, but if a campaign coalesces somewhere beyond the existing petition page, I will post a link.

3 responses to “Garman-Ryan collection under threat at Walsall

  1. Raquel Gilboa January 9, 2017 at 1:38 am

    The following letter was sent to all members of the Wallsal Council, in view of the intended plans that eventually amount to a total closure of The New Are Gallery – Walsall.
    I am a researcher who published two volumes on the sculptor Jacob Epstein, whose work has generously been donated to the city of Walsall by his widow Lady Kathleen Epstein. The collection of his’ and others’ work, is now hosted in the beautiful building of the Gallery.
    Moreover – the main archive on Epstein (including my modest contribution to it) is hosted in the Gallery, forming a unique and an almost complete source for one of England’s greatest sculptors.

    In my visits to Walsall to carry on the research for my books and articles on the sculptor, I noticed the groups of pupils coming to the place, absorbing the artistic atmosphere and executing works of their on – turning the place into a lively working space.
    In this materialistic period, where almost everything is arranged for kids by smartphones and their derivations, it was a great pleasure to see youngsters working on paper with their own hands.
    Also, needless to say. it has been a pleasure to see exhibitions by different artists as well as – forgive the triviality – to enjoy a coffee-break on the banks of the canal.
    Therefore, I urge you to reconsider your policy of “killing” this wonderful and important place, important to artist and researchers like me, as well as for future generations in Walsall, who are to remain without a cultural-central-point.
    Living abroad, you might say “what nerves does she have to tell us…”, but please believe me:
    I honestly believe (and my professional experience tells me) that closing the Gallery is a grave mistake, not only for artists and researchers, but mainly for the general public.

    Yours sincerely
    Dr. Raquel Gilboa

    • richardawarren January 13, 2017 at 6:01 pm

      Raquel, that’s an excellent letter. I recently attended a Walsall Labour Party meeting to consider the proposed cuts. The bad news is that the council really is backed up against the wall here. Their funding from local government has virtually been halved over the last few years and something has to give. If it’s not the Gallery or libraries it may be social care or children’s services, so it’s a tough call. The good news is that apparently the terms of the gift of the collection by Kathleen Garman mean that the collection has to be kept, can’t be sold off, and has to be displayed. If it were moved elsewhere the costs of looking after the empty gallery building would be enormous, so closure is looking impractical. Even if the Gallery is saved the community will suffer in some other way, but the coming months will reveal the outcome.

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