Dear Editor, The reason why £20m Lottery funding for Walsall’s New Art Gallery was granted at all was that, among all the other things it might or might not do, it would above all provide a secure, fit-for-purpose permanent exhibition space for a priceless, world-class art collection (the Garman-Ryan Collection).
When, out of the blue, a priceless, world-class hoard of gorgeously-crafted Anglo-Saxon gold is unearthed just one mile from Brownhills in the Borough of Walsall, and six miles from the gallery’s door, and it and Walsall Council have remained totally and inexplicably silent about this amazing find in the ensuing months, it seems to me a matter of public interest, not to say plain common sense, to enquire why the NAG should not provide the hoard’s permanent home.
Coun Bird, however, calls this “irresponsible”, and adduces a long list of reasons why the New Art Gallery is not suitable (Post, Feb 25).
I must say I found these less than convincing, and none of them insuperable, given the will, and imagine that numerous of your readers with more knowledge of, and expertise in, these matters than either Coun Bird or myself, might share that view.
However, given that Walsall Council and the NAG, culpably in my view, have volunteered to rule themselves out, I do think that there is a wider debate to be had in the region about where the Hoard should be permanently housed. There are two key issues:
First, and in particular, I would like to stress that the museums of Birmingham and Stoke who hope to acquire the Hoard, allegedly on behalf of the region whose citizens are being asked to fund its acquisition, should not assume (as I am pretty sure they do) that they will then also provide its permanent home or homes: the basis of the decision,
I firmly believe, that the Hoard needs be physically located within or as close to its historical context as practicable, not wrested from it on some pretext or other.
On this count, that does not sound like Stoke to me, even if their current exhibition – visitor numbers 20,000 so far, and rising fast – is titled “The Staffordshire Hoard comes Home” (from Brownhills)!
Next, I have a fundamental difficulty with the proposition that the Hoard should be shared between two sites, Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent: how would that work? Would the collection be split? Or would it be rotated with six months here, six months there? Neither of these seem desirable, sensible or practicable. The public would surely be best served knowing that they could view the entire Hoard, month in, month out, year in, year out, in one location.
Politicians in the Walsall area have floated the idea of a dedicated exhibition centre at or near the site. It’s a pipe-dream which might or might not win them brownie points, but it is not going to happen. Coun Bird’s suggestion that there could be an Anglo-Saxon heritage trail may or may not happen.
The only thing that is certain is that a permanent home or homes for the Hoard will be found, and we all need to make sure, first that it stays in the region; and second that it stays together; and third, that it is exhibited within, or as close to its historical context as possible.
Like it or not, unless Walsall rules itself in, that means Birmingham, doesn’t it?