D-Day for gallery expansion plans

PUBLISHED: 09:39 01 October 2008 | UPDATED: 22:24 15 June 2010

THE future expansion of The Thelma Hulbert Gallery, in Honiton, will be decided by East Devon District Council's Executive Board.

THE future expansion of The Thelma Hulbert Gallery, in Honiton, will be decided by East Devon District Council's Executive Board.Members of the council's overview committee last week recommended a proposal to expand the gallery to the ground floor of Elmfield House, currently used as a register office.Emma Collins, of Gallery Creative Business Consultancy, gave a presentation to councillors, saying the gallery would like to see itself on a national register of contemporary art venues by 2012. Supporters would like visitor numbers to increase from 4,000 to 11,000 in six years and their vision includes being actively engaged in supporting life-long learning, whether youth groups, families or older people. "We call it the hidden gem. The heart of the gallery is to invite, engage and inspire. It would be the cultural gateway to the Jurassic coast and the South West," said Ms Collins.The Arts Council is keen to match capital funding. Income from the shop is around £400 a month, about £1.25 a visitor, councillors were told. Cafe sales took £2,000 in the first year. Income in 2006/7 rose to £6,125. In five months this year, income had already topped £9,500.Councillor Ray Bloxham said: "This is a wonderful opportunity to get rid of people downstairs. Are they likely to go without a fight?"Ishbel Ramsay, EDDC's arts development officer, said: "The council asked for a break clause in the new business lease and made it clear to Devon County Council that after two years they would be asked to leave. It is not something they would be surprised at."It was always the idea that in the future we saw the potential for the gallery to take over the building."EDDC was actively pursuing two avenues of rehousing the registrar in East Devon.Peter Jeffs, corporate director communities, said: "My understanding is these people would have every right to renew their lease. If we need to take the building back for our own use legally we can do it."He didn't think it would be an issue if the council worked with the registrar to find alternative suitable accommodation.Councillor Malcolm Forey said: "Having heard the strong presentation I am surprised that in five years you are still talking about depending on contributions from the district council." He was concerned to think it might not "stand on its own two feet" in another five years and wondered if, with the cost of maintaining an older building, there had been any consideration of relocating into a purpose-built gallery.Consultants said that had not been in their remit.Councillor Steve Wragg was also surprised EDDC was still supporting the gallery. "Blackmore Theatre was told to get on with it in Exmouth," he said."Going to the gallery is always a good experience. I can see it working in the whole of the house," said Councillor Graham Brown. "The caution is the building is also a good place for the registry office. I wouldn't want to see us being heavy-handed and turn the registrar out. I want to be sure where we move him to is suitable, with car parking and an entrance."Councillor Roger Boote said: "I think it is a fantastic opportunity. I am quite excited about it." He wondered if the council might put itself in a vulnerable position by taking the ground floor back from the registrar.Councillor Graham Godbeer said: "I am a great supporter of the arts and will do anything to support this. I think it is fantastic. I see great potential for it as the hub in East Devon, outreaching to other galleries, even to the Jurassic coast information centres."Councillor Vivienne Ash said it was not in the council's interests to work against the registrar and wondered if there was another solution.Councillor Peter Halse said: "One needs to support this resolution. The option of doing nothing is not an option. The reason the gallery is not better known is because it is difficult to get to. It is a wonderful Georgian building as a whole, but in little bits it is not. It will enhance the whole building. We have to face up to the costs." Councillor Graham Liverton said: "It will be so good, we will not want to let it go. The consultants have done a first class job. It is make or break time. This is a hidden gem, but what a gem. Everyone in the community can be affected by this. Let's be bold for a change. We want them to be in the right place. It is a golden opportunity. It has come into birth, now let it breed and we can really have something in East Devon to be proud of."Councillor Ann Liverton said surveys on satisfaction among residents showed one of the least satisfied areas was Honiton. "This could well add a fifth reason for supporting this," she said. "It could improve life in Honiton for people who find there is not much there."Councillor Paul Diviani said: "You have made it sound so sexy and exciting (consultants); the timing of this is superb." He hoped it could be put into effect before the local government review was considered by Government."The only thing that concerns me is the register office is in a very good location in East Devon. We want to hold on to it in Honiton, because it is easy to get to for all the rest of the area it covers."Honiton "knows what it wants to be" said Councillor Phillip Skinner. "It is an arty place, people go to its antique shops; it has an identity."Keeping key staff at the gallery was essential, he said, adding he felt there was a demand for this. "Social inclusion is very important. We build skate parks and football pitches, it is very important we don't forget the arts.

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