A campaign which started local and went global, has finally paid off. Six years ago Waltham Forest Council planned to close the William Morris Gallery, in Walthamstow.
Now the gallery has won the Museum of the Year 2013, an award worth £100,000, and organised by the ArtFund. Congratulations are flooding in. They are well deserved. The renovations have transformed a fusty, dark and quite frankly unappealing building into an informative, bright and attractive survey of Morris and his myriad interests. The obligatory cafe is a nice touch as well. Many photos on google.
Amongst the plaudits there is, however, a little re-writing of history. One of the judges, the artist Bob and Roberta Smith is quoted in the ArtFund magazine:
” in the current climate it’s amazing to see a local authority realise the power of art in regenerating a borough”.
Other reports have made a similar point. Fair enough; Waltham Forest Council did provide £1,500,000 towards the work (around 30%) and will run the Gallery. Good news for all who believe in the important role the arts can play in local well-being.
But it was not always this rosy. Six years ago the Council wished to close the Gallery, merge its priceless contents with a museum in South London and be shot of the whole affair. They wanted to save £65,000. Unbelievably they had tried to do the same in 1987.
What changed their mind? A very active campaign which gained world-wide support. A petition signed by 11,630, demonstrations (it was cold!): citizens actions. An active Friends group was formed in 1987 lobbied. The Council changed its mind.
Now the new Gallery has attracted over 100,000 visitors in less than a year from its re-opening. The Museum of the Year prize will bring in far more. So it is congratulations to the local councillors.. for listening to their local citizens.
As well as the standing collection the Gallery has already hosted exhibitions by Grayson Perry, David Bailey, modern crafts and in 2014 becomes the first gallery in the UK to host Jeremy Dellers’ current exhibition at the British Pavilion in Venice. That features William Morris rising to hurl Abramovich’s monster yacht into the lagoon.
With the arts in financial trouble in most of Europe it is a little bit of good news on the power of campaigning. William Morris, socialist, would have been pleased.