£6 million to invest. Art Gallery or Conference Centre?

I know where I would put my money.

Last Saturday the Jersey Evening Post revealed that it would cost £5-6 million to build a new art gallery at The Weighbridge. On top of that it is suggested that there will be an annual running cost of up to £500k. And would you pay £10 to visit the attraction? No – nor would I! Surely Jersey doesn’t need its own art gallery? We have some fabulous works (such as this depiction of Mont Orgueil by Ian Rolls). However there are plenty of existing sites for displaying art, including existing locations such as The Barreau Le Maistre Art Gallery at The Jersey Museum. The gallery will be too small to attract exhibitions from elsewhere - the cost of transporting and insuring collections versus the likely size of audience simply won’t add up.

Now those that read this blog regularly will know that a while ago I advocated the building of a new conference & events centre to compete with the myriad of new venues across the UK. Fort Regent is simply no longer good enough and with so many new 4 star hotel rooms, the 500-1000 delegate conference market would prove extremely helpful to the whole industry. It would also provide a smart new venue for islanders to enjoy concerts and other large-scale events.

I won’t go back over all the old arguments – read about them here. In the past the idea has been rejected for not providing a big enough return on investment. Well, a plea to our politicians – look at the commercial arguments for a new conference & events centre over an art gallery before you sign away £6 million.


Adrian Rossell said...

I totally agree that such a huge investment should produce some income for the island in its own right. No one is going to fly to Jersey to specifically go to an art gallery, they may visit it if they happen to be here. I don't see a huge income being produced from visitors local or otherwise. Is a gallery a commercially viable proposition? A multi-purpose conference and events centre can be adapted to produce income from multiple streams, including the display of art! A conference centre would improve income at all levels by increasing the number of bed nights sold and the spend in retail outlets and catering establishments. The benefit to all locals is also greater and has a wider appeal than an art gallery. Should we start a petition? Lol. Oh, and before it happens I don't think we need to spend 250k on a consultant company from the UK producing a document on the viability of an art gallery! Go on shoot me down in flames!!

Robert Mackenzie said...

Adrian - thanks for your comments. Hopefully the issue will lead to the Conference Centre being put back on the agenda.

Paul Acton-Phillips said...

I agree with everything that Adrian says, not a penny will be added to the island take by this idea, and it risks yet another costly fiasco.
Robert says that Fort Regent is not suitable. How about building a separate centre for health and exercise, and use the resultant large space for a conference centre in Fort Regent, accessible from the town via a lift from Snow Hill.
There are many art galleries in the island, I commend the current exhibition at the Westmount Gallery where I have just bought a stunning canvas from our renowned local artist, Susan McGarry.

Rod Bryans said...

Robert - the true answer is both. This is head and heart stuff.The St.Ives Tate is almost solely responsible for the regeneration of Cornwall. (Not forgetting the Eden Project.)There has been a steady increase in visitors since it opened and they go back. People love art and will travel miles to see it.

So now the head stuff. This Island desperately needs a purpose built Conference Centre. State of the art.
Why? Because there is a growing market for this form of business. It would replenish that area of tourism that is lacking. The weathy short term visitor. The Conference market is a growth industry, particularly in Finance, and we have both the commercial willingness and infrastructure to cope with it. And as with the Tate once people have visited on business they return as tourists.

But which will get built first?
The Art gallery because the heart rules the head. If you don't believe me, think about all the famous Art Galleries you have visited, in particular what they meant to you, and then attempt to recall the same number of Conference centres and how you felt about those. We also have, salted away, some great art in private collections here on the Island. This may just bring them out for public appreciation.

Good Art Galleries are a balm to the soul. Even the best Conference centres can't claim that.