THE three exhibition spaces at Salisbury library are all given to a single show at present.

Cicatrix looks professional, and the best presentation at the galleries for some time, but my view that the city lacks a separate gallery is reinforced.

I fear the Young Gallery will never be able to attract out-of-town visitors while it’s part of a public library. It is the obvious base on which to build a dedicated gallery as it has a permanent collection to house, but would the rest of the art community support it?

Although we always have plenty of work on show, Salisbury has no reputation for visual art.

There’s much talk, and some action in the business community to get visitors to spend more time, and more money, in the city. How about a new art gallery?

Here are some comparisons to consider.

Margate, not known as a cultural centre, has a new publicly-funded gallery, the Turner Contemporary. When I recently visited it was showing a mixture of old and new work and was packed with visitors. It wasn’t even raining.

Nearby, in Hastings, is the new Jerwood Contemporary. This charges an entry fee and so by comparison has fewer visitors, but is a fabulous architectural addition to the waterfront. It’s also a private venture, so no drain on the public purse.

Margate is a similar size to Salisbury. Moreover, its surrounding catchment area is mainly populated by fish, and Hastings has a similar population to south Wiltshire.

BBC News recently asked the question: “Has the art gallery boom paid off?”

It quoted the Margate gallery claiming 500,000 visitors in its first year, and while every one of these wasn’t visiting the gallery exclusively, it clearly provides a boost to the economy.

Established public galleries like the Towner in Eastbourne have also found a new lease of life by moving to a purpose-built new building.

These are all southern examples. Elsewhere you can cite Middlesbrough, Wakefield and Gateshead as beneficiaries of new prestige galleries.

Salisbury needs a new offering to attract visitors.

I can’t see the slight improvements to the Market Place capturing the public or tour operators’ imaginations, and the city centre, which does have some attractive prospects, is at present too tawdry to encourage people to linger.

There are more places to eat and drink, but otherwise still some way to go. Enjoying a pavement cafe latte, with a view of Poundland and the fashions displayed in the charity shop window across the way, brought this home to me.

By Martin Urmson


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