‘Right to let the Turner building go’

David Shrigley's Life Model 2012 which is one of the pieces on display in this years Turner Prize exhibition in Derry~Londonderry the UK City of Culture. Viewers are encouraged to create their own piece of art by producing a sketch of the installation which are then hung on the gallery walls. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 22.10.13

David Shrigley's Life Model 2012 which is one of the pieces on display in this years Turner Prize exhibition in Derry~Londonderry the UK City of Culture. Viewers are encouraged to create their own piece of art by producing a sketch of the installation which are then hung on the gallery walls. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 22.10.13

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In this opinion piece for the ‘Journal’ local businessman Peter Mackenzie writes about why he feels it’s right for the Turner building to go, and why investment is needed elsewhere to boost Derry’s arts, culture and tourism sectors.

There is always a problem when someone tries to speak out against a proposal particularly if legacy and culture are attached to the proposal.

There is a strong possibility that you will be attacked as a philistine, a begrudger, lacking in imagination or simply opposed to Derry.

So in speaking out against keeping the Turner Prize building as a gallery I am likely to attract a deal of anger but as no politician will have the guts to do so in fear of losing votes, I will make my case against this option.

Before I begin I would like to make clear that I believe that Derry has been short changed in regards to any capital funding for regional cultural development and I’m not opposed to having a major gallery in the city to complement the huge contribution made and continuing to be made in the heart of the city in our existing cultural hub.

The Playhouse has been made out of nothing but a few hundred pounds and the continuing hard work of Pauline Ross and her team of workers.

The Nerve Centre under Pearse Moore and Marty Melarkey have made the Foyle Film Festival one of the most important film festivals in Ireland and played such a vital role in the UK City of Culture 2013.

The Verbal Arts Centre created the A level journalism course that is used throughout the UK and continues to fly in the face of a rising tide of internet mediocrity by developing its reading room project.

Private enterprise in the shape of Sandinos, Masons, Peadar O Donnell’s, Tinney’s and many others are living testament to the accolade of City of Music.

The list of creative entrepreneurs is too great to list and would serve no purpose at this stage.

Why then am I opposed to the retention of the Turner Gallery you might ask? The answer comes in many parts.

Firstly, £2m of the £2.5m that was invested in these buildings was secured on the basis that it was to become a digital hub.

How can we expect future funders to take any of our pledges seriously if we simply cast aside the strategic planning involved in securing the funding?

As it happens this is the only significant development in IT since securing Project Kelvin and it holds out the possibility of self sustaining employment.

The majority of the potential jobs from keeping the building as a gallery will be displacement jobs from the existing Arts sector and in any case will be dependent on public funding.

There is no evidence that the funding for the retention and development of the gallery will come from Stormont and in all possibility will have to be funded through our rates. If I remember correctly the council was giving a subvention to the Orchard Gallery of some £750k per annum for what amounted to a trickle of visitors. While I accept that the Arts always require a level of public support, regional facilities require regional funding.

If indeed we were going to have a major regional cultural facility in the city I believe that we should have proper consultation about where best to locate such a facility. It is all very well for ILEX to seek to have it in Ebrington as they have been gifted a large parcel of land and have been unsuccessful in attracting any significant private investment in developing it. This does not mean we should assume that large publicly funded projects should be placed there.

Given the recent debate around out of town shopping centres we must all be aware by now that with the competition from online retailers we cannot depend on retail alone to bring vibrancy to our city centres.

It should be clear to all strategic planners that Culture/Education/Hospitality and Tourism will have to play a bigger role in keeping our city centres alive.

Not only do we need to look at the siting of any such Cultural Centre, we need to consider the nature of the cultural centre. If we are going to spend £50-£100m on a major regional attraction we might want to consider should that be a Maritime Museum celebrating the enormous naval heritage of the city or maybe the Amelia Earhart Centre with its enormous tourist potential.

If we made the decision to partner with Google/Microsoft/Facebook/Twitter in creating a Cyber University in Professor McKevitt’s Imagineering Quarter we might feel that the money would be better spent there.

Of course people will say that the Turner Gallery will pay for itself - look at how many people turned up for the exhibition. However it’s clear that if the Turner Prize took place in Pilot’s Row it would have attracted the same amount of visitors.

Look at the visitor numbers for the Void or the Centre for Contemporary Arts to ascertain the true interest in the Arts in this city. I am in no way castigating the efforts of those in our existing galleries but I do this to illustrate what an uphill task we all have in supporting and developing culture in this city. If anyone doubts my commitment to culture I will remind people that in an attempt to keep Bookworm open against a tide of cultural indifference I bankrupted myself.

I would remind people also that while we frittered away some £7m on a mobile tent in Ebrington which is now gone (because no-one could see any commercial argument for keeping it) at the same time St Columb’s Hall was picked up for some 10% of that figure.

St Columb’s Hall was a truly central part of our Cultural heritage, bringing thousands of people from all around the world every year to our Feis.

How much better it would have been if we could have raised the interest in re-opening the Orchard Gallery and re-invigorating the rest of the building into a genuinely multi-functional cultural space.

Derry has a huge political and cultural heritage that is waiting to be developed for the tourist market, sitting as we do between Donegal, Causeway Coast and Fermanagh Lakeland with the unparalleled Ulster Scots legacy of Presbyterianism that was the cornerstone of 1798 rebellion and the American Civil War.

I really don’t believe that amateur drawings of a ten foot plastic man pissing in a bucket has greater pulling power.

There is a strong possibility that you will be attacked as a philistine, a begrudger, lacking in imagination or simply opposed to Derry.

Peter Mackenzie

Peter Mackenzie

So in speaking out against keeping the Turner Prize building as a gallery I am likely to attract a deal of anger but as no politician will have the guts to do so in fear of losing votes, I will make my case against this option.

Before I begin I would like to make clear that I believe that Derry has been short changed in regards to any capital funding for regional cultural development and I’m not opposed to having a major gallery in the city to complement the huge contribution made and continuing to be made in the heart of the city in our existing cultural hub.

The Playhouse has been made out of nothing but a few hundred pounds and the continuing hard work of Pauline Ross and her team of workers.

The Nerve Centre under Pearse Moore and Marty Melarkey have made the Foyle Film Festival one of the most important film festivals in Ireland and played such a vital role in the UK City of Culture 2013.

The Verbal Arts Centre created the A level journalism course that is used throughout the UK and continues to fly in the face of a rising tide of internet mediocrity by developing its reading room project.

Private enterprise in the shape of Sandinos, Masons, Peadar O Donnell’s, Tinney’s and many others are living testament to the accolade of City of Music.

The list of creative entrepreneurs is too great to list and would serve no purpose at this stage.

Why then am I opposed to the retention of the Turner Gallery you might ask? The answer comes in many parts.

Firstly, £2m of the £2.5m that was invested in these buildings was secured on the basis that it was to become a digital hub.

How can we expect future funders to take any of our pledges seriously if we simply cast aside the strategic planning involved in securing the funding?

As it happens this is the only significant development in IT since securing Project Kelvin and it holds out the possibility of self sustaining employment.

The majority of the potential jobs from keeping the building as a gallery will be displacement jobs from the existing Arts sector and in any case will be dependent on public funding.

There is no evidence that the funding for the retention and development of the gallery will come from Stormont and in all possibility will have to be funded through our rates. If I remember correctly the council was giving a subvention to the Orchard Gallery of some £750k per annum for what amounted to a trickle of visitors. While I accept that the Arts always require a level of public support, regional facilities require regional funding.

If indeed we were going to have a major regional cultural facility in the city I believe that we should have proper consultation about where best to locate such a facility. It is all very well for ILEX to seek to have it in Ebrington as they have been gifted a large parcel of land and have been unsuccessful in attracting any significant private investment in developing it. This does not mean we should assume that large publicly funded projects should be placed there.

Given the recent debate around out of town shopping centres we must all be aware by now that with the competition from online retailers we cannot depend on retail alone to bring vibrancy to our city centres.

It should be clear to all strategic planners that Culture/Education/Hospitality and Tourism will have to play a bigger role in keeping our city centres alive.

Not only do we need to look at the siting of any such Cultural Centre, we need to consider the nature of the cultural centre. If we are going to spend £50-£100m on a major regional attraction we might want to consider should that be a Maritime Museum celebrating the enormous naval heritage of the city or maybe the Amelia Earhart Centre with its enormous tourist potential.

If we made the decision to partner with Google/Microsoft/Facebook/Twitter in creating a Cyber University in Professor McKevitt’s Imagineering Quarter we might feel that the money would be better spent there.

Of course people will say that the Turner Gallery will pay for itself - look at how many people turned up for the exhibition. However it’s clear that if the Turner Prize took place in Pilot’s Row it would have attracted the same amount of visitors.

Look at the visitor numbers for the Void or the Centre for Contemporary Arts to ascertain the true interest in the Arts in this city. I am in no way castigating the efforts of those in our existing galleries but I do this to illustrate what an uphill task we all have in supporting and developing culture in this city. If anyone doubts my commitment to culture I will remind people that in an attempt to keep Bookworm open against a tide of cultural indifference I bankrupted myself.

I would remind people also that while we frittered away some £7m on a mobile tent in Ebrington which is now gone (because no-one could see any commercial argument for keeping it) at the same time St Columb’s Hall was picked up for some 10% of that figure.

St Columb’s Hall was a truly central part of our Cultural heritage, bringing thousands of people from all around the world every year to our Feis.

How much better it would have been if we could have raised the interest in re-opening the Orchard Gallery and re-invigorating the rest of the building into a genuinely multi-functional cultural space.

Derry has a huge political and cultural heritage that is waiting to be developed for the tourist market, sitting as we do between Donegal, Causeway Coast and Fermanagh Lakeland with the unparalleled Ulster Scots legacy of Presbyterianism that was the cornerstone of 1798 rebellion and the American Civil War.

I really don’t believe that amateur drawings of a ten foot plastic man pissing in a bucket has greater pulling power.