Art gallery's future in doubt

By Dave GooderhamA PRESTIGIOUS art gallery could be forced to close if a council fails to back its ambitious expansion plan, a director has warned.A £3.

By Dave Gooderham

A PRESTIGIOUS art gallery could be forced to close if a council fails to back its ambitious expansion plan, a director has warned.

A £3.9million scheme to transform the Corn Exchange in Bury St Edmunds into a visual arts centre - incorporating the town's gallery - has been put on hold until discussions are held over the long-term funding of the project.

But while the town could be deprived of a state-of-the-art centre of excellence, the art gallery could also lose its current Market Cross home - earmarked for a new public building.

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Gallery director, Barbara Taylor, said the Art Gallery Trust would have to look at the situation closely if the funding problems could not be resolved.

“It is very frustrating and it has made us seriously think about the future of the gallery and our move to the Corn Exchange,” she added.

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“We are not in a very sustainable position - when it comes to core funding, we are only operating on a very short level of staff.

“We have Lottery funding until next year, but beyond that it is difficult to say. I am very worried about the future as the trust members are all voluntary and look after this organisation at their own risk - they will have look very seriously at everything.”

A futuristic plan for the new art gallery was unveiled last month, drawing support from councillors and development watchdog group, The Bury Society.

Mrs Taylor said: “The proposals for the Corn Exchange have been greeted with universal acclaim and it would be a gorgeous public building.

“But we need the borough council to be behind the project and we need discussions with them to look at short-term and long-term options before we can achieve anything.”

A £20,000 feasibility study, partly funded by the borough council, was carried out by the trust into accommodating the gallery in the 142-year-old Corn Exchange.

Now Mrs Taylor fears the scheme may have lost the support of the council, which owns the building.

“We were invited by the borough council to look at turning the Corn Exchange into new visual arts centre,” she said. “They put £25,000 into a study and initially showed a lot of interest in our plans.

“But that was under the previous administration and since November we have had signals that they are now not wholeheartedly behind the scheme.”

A spokeswoman for St Edmundsbury Borough Council refused to comment on the claim it had lost interest in the expansion plan.

But she said: “The art gallery wanted to carry out a feasibility study to see if a move into the Corn Exchange was viable.

“St Edmundsbury helped with some funding for the study and a report of the future options will be considered by cabinet on April 7.”

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