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Our family visited West Bromwich’s very expensive new art gallery this weekend. We had been at the baptism of Polly’s baby at the local catholic church and had time before the chicken roasting in the Vicarage oven was going to be cooked, so we dropped into the big black fish tank with Babapapa windows.

Is it a huge waste of money or an investment for the future?

A huge waste of money or an investment for the future?

We have been in before (for expensive coffee and a view of the glitzy loos), but the art gallery part has only just opened, so this was our first opportunity to gauge whether the £67 million that was spent has been really worthwhile.

Of course, the word on the street is that it is a complete waste of money for a town which has no cinema, no bowling alley and no swimming pool. But let’s give it a chance, eh? We loved the art gallery in Wolverhampton, where you could look at beautiful pictures, dress up as a Georgian, feel textured sculptures and eat wonderful salad selections. I would sometimes just pop in with the kids for half an hour to visit their favourite exhibits.

So how was the Public going to shape up? Would the kids enjoy it? And would the grown ups?

First off, I have to say that the curators are a bit overkeen. I like to look at the art and spend time in my own head in a gallery. And the kids like to do their own thing. So having three or four curators launch themselves at us telling us what to do was a little off-putting.  Maybe they were a bit bored – there seems to be rather too many of them.  It’s great to have them there to ask things of, but when they just started suggesting what we do, I felt rather patronised. Like we were ignorant and wouldn’t know what to do and might not be able to read any instructions or labels. It made me a bit grumpy, to tell the truth. If I want people to leap on me and ask me if I need any help, I’ll go to a posh frock shop.

Secondly, there’s not a lot there. And I don’t want to sound ignorant or anything, but I don’t think that much of it was what I’d call art. There were four sculptures and some good photos of the Black Country from the 1960s. But the rest consisted of the following:

  • What the kids called ‘dance mats’ and were basically slightly weird and not very good computer games.
  • Some fun video projectors which enabled you to see yourself sitting on a bench with people sitting on a different bench.
  • Some touch screen digital photo frames with photos of art projects that have happened at the Public over the summer.
  • A couple of short movies (one on the Public and one on Malcolm X).
  • A chance to make an animation of yourself.
  • Some gadgets which you could swirl your hands in to make coloured bubbles appear on some round projector screens.

I’d much rather look at a couple of good paintings and let the kids dress up in funky ’60s clothing, like in Wolverhampton’s pop art gallery.

Now from their latest magazine, I can see that there is more to the place than the exhibition, and we enjoyed hearing wafts of live jazz as we ambled down the long wooden ramp that most of the gallery seems to comprise of. And I liked the look of their Saturday art club and might even bring the kids along one week.

But as for the exhibition, the children enjoyed jumping about on the ‘dance mats’ and swirling their hands to make bubbles. And they liked the free self portrait photo. But the Vicar and I were pretty bored. And I can’t see the gallery exciting my kids about art, especially not compared to what they could experience in Wolverhampton. I wonder what they could have done with a cheap refurbished factory and money spent on real art instead? Or money spent on artists in every primary school in Sandwell.

So in my view, the Public seems rather like the Millenium Dome. A visionary building with less than visionary contents. The Public has so far failed to impress this section of West Brom’s public.

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