The Public, West Bromwich
(I don’t seem to have much time to write the blog lately, despite having lots to say. Other things-family, work, studio- have been the necessary priority at what seems like a time of year where every last ounce of my time seems squeezed out of me).
The Public, West Bromwich’s ill-fated arts centre, sadly closed it’s big pink doors to the public on the 16th November. I found myself outside the silver, Star Wars like, back door a few days later to pick up a few large portraits from my ‘Seek My Face’ project that I had donated to the centre a couple of years ago. It was either I come and get them or they ended up in a skip I’m guessing, although I was just told that ‘their safety could not be guaranteed after the end of the month’, when Sandwell College takes the building over and turns it in a Sixth Form (just at a time when I learnt today that many Sixth Form Colleges could be losing up to 40% of their funding next year).
It was a sorry sight to behold, as I was escorted to the back of the rather fabulous theatre that has really been a showcase for some national touring acts in comedy and theatre, a thing unheard of for years in the town, to pick up my paintings by a very angry and bitter senior member of staff. There was this unique, bespoke building being stripped apart and dismantled, expensive equipment being shoved in the backs of transit vans by hungry vultures, probably other desperate community and arts organizations.
'Shinda', one of my reclaimed paintings. I always like this one.
I don’t get it, as The Public in it’s weird, fish tank looking way, now seems to have found it’s place amongst West Bromwich’s recently built New Square, a complex of new branded high street shops, after four years of struggle to get the local community to take it to it’s heart. After a sky-rocketing budget of £72 million though to originally get it built, which did much to fuel local people’s anger towards it, I’m not sure that ever happened, but it was now becoming well-used, and a certain warmth towards it from the locals was being felt, as all sorts of community groups started to meet and hold events there. Their loss was really palpable as I watched their testimonies to the place on the local news.
But I do get it too, as one of my oldest friends is a councillor in West Bromwich, and involved in the decision to close it. He explained how it was a stark choice between shutting The Public, or cutting funding to essential frontline services in Sandwell, an already extremely impoverished area. And now, once again, culturally impoverished, with the closure of this major regional arts centre. Our regions really need place like this. You just can’t win in these desperate times under this desperate government.
The Public's space age interior
'Seek My Face' exhibited at The Public in 2008
I picked up my portraits and headed off. I’m not sure why I really bothered donated them. I had hoped that they may occasionally find a continued lease of life on the walls of The Public, but I don’t think they had moved from the back of the theatre since the day I gifted them. Which actually says a lot about my own rather strained relationship with the place since being one of the first artists to exhibit there in 2008, when it first opened it’s doors. But that’s another story, maybe one for my kids! Collecting the paintings sort of felt a bit like picking my children up.