Sunday, November 19, 2006

Tour of Our Art Collection and the Magistrates Courts

On Saturday morning I had a tour of the City Council's art collection followed by a look around around the former Magistrates Courts at the Civic Centre. It was absolutely fascinating and I could have spent the whole day looking around.

The City Art Collection

As well as briefing looking around the gallery, I had a look at where the art is stored and also where paintings are restored.

The Boat on the Lake, by French Impresionist artist Renoir, was generously donated to the City last month.

I had a close look at Renoir's Boat on the Lake which was recently donated to the City. The painting doesn't have a frame at the moment! Although it soon will have and it is planned to be displayed in January next year.

The city has an art collection of over three and a half thousand paintings worth a staggering £130m. Only about 200 paintings are ever on display at any one time. A few are loaned out. The vast majority however are kept in storage. On average a painting might remain in storage for 4 years before it is displayed!

At the moment the city's gallery costs the tax payer about half a percent on their council tax. Really though with such a valuable asset it should be making money and not losing it. I wonder whether the Council could make significant sums of money by lending paintings out to businesses and wealthy individuals.

Furthermore the art collection really should be insured. The Civic Centre is a very old building and parts of it leak. It would be a terrible waste of public money if the paintings suffered water damage.

The Magistrates Courts

Built in the 1930s the Civic Centre consists of four blocks. The east block houses the Guildhall. The north block or arts block consists of the art gallery and library. The south block consists of the municipal offices. The west block of the Civic Centre opened in 1933 and houses the former law courts and the city central police station.

The west wing, originally courts, now hosting the police station, and the monumental clock tower.

Tragically the parts of the building that house the former law courts have been closed for the past eight years. The building needs serious repairs to the roof which could cost millions of pounds. The building has a steel frame. Rusting steel is expanding and putting pressure on the stonework.

The police plan to move out of the Civic Centre in a couple of years time. When they do the whole west block will be empty. It will be a tragedy for such an amazing building to be empty and mothballed.

One idea is for the west wing to be used as a heritage centre and linked through to the art gallery. It could house a Titanic exhibition and show off some of Southampton's incredible history. Such a venture would cost significant sums of money. However if heritage grants are available then it might be worth pursuing. If the building is left it will deteriorate further and we do have a duty to maintain such a fantastic building for future generations.

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