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The Public – misunderstood, mismanaged and poorly promoted?

19th March, 2009.

I’m first going to write my own opinion, please feel free to comment and air what you think.  I hope to have this as a series of posts discussing The Public.

What I think it is?  It’s a central social hub for the town of West Bromwich.  In reality it is a 21st century town hall fit for today’s use.  It offers facilities such as a conference suit, music hall, theatrical stage, a gallery, office and retail space.

There is belief that people of the region think it is ‘just an art gallery’.  I can understand why, it was started by a community arts, media and communications company based in West Bromwich known as Jubilee Arts. Perhaps this motion of ‘just an art gallery’ became engraved into peoples minds from day one.  Perhaps the organisation behind the development didn’t really have an understanding of what they wanted, and how they would promote this multi-purpose social space.  It has always been a little hazy to some.

The company behind the making of the building went into administration before it was completed.  It was forecast to cost £38m, but ended up at £54m.  I know to some extent how much these things cost.  I’m a development technofreak, I even have a blog on Eastside in Birmingham.  £38m was a real underestimate from first glance, £54m is realistic.  The nearest other development of size and use I can think of is the £140m Millennium Point in Birmingham.  Perhaps the MAC in Birmingham of ~£15m is your next art centre in mind, but it is nothing of the scale of The Public.   New Central Library in Birmingham may cost £150-200m.  People of West Bromwich, you got a cheap building and at a fair price.

I also think they fail to understand some of the business models of today’s world.  They seem a little outdated and solitarian.  Let’s take social media as one way of engaging the general public.  I’m not going to give a lecture on social media, I’ll leave that for the newly formed Black Country Social Media Cafe.  I’m yet to see any social interaction from the current management of the building.  Have you?

Then we get the press. All bar one news paper hates The Public.  They have been giving very biased views, they like to only include interviews with opinions from those who have already been spoon fed untruths and classically conditioned to think everything is for the worse.  |’ll let you all name and shame news papers for the comments, but I want to say the Birmingham Post is the exception and seems to give balanced arguments.

There was also controversy over the cost of entry.  £7 for adults was advertised.  Lessons should have be learned from the ThinkTank museum in Birmingham and it should have been used as a case study.  It struggles, it’s expensive, and Brummies have never got over the fact the old Science Museum was free. With The Public’s problems of build over-expenditure, poor promotion and management, this put the nail on the coffin.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 20th March, 2009. 9:14 pm

    Thanks for this piece. The comparative costs of other public buildings and the explanation of what the building provides (not just an art gallery) has been really helpful to question my own pre-conceptions.

  2. 7th April, 2009. 7:30 pm

    Maybe what everybody really wanted was a swimming pool.

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