Galleries Go for Strength in Numbers; the Liveliest Museums and Galleries in the West Midlands Are Joining Forces to Put the Region on the National Art Map, Writes Terry Grimley

Article excerpt

Britain is going through an art boom and museums and galleries in the West Midlands are determined to be part of it.

The massive crowds flocking to the new Tate Modern and other lottery-funded art galleries in London, as well as to a series of high-profile exhibitions at the Royal Academy and other venues in the capital, point to a significant economic reality as well as a cultural buzz. But is it a peculiarly metropolitan phenomenon?

The success of the New Art Gallery in Walsall in attracting international attention and transforming the image of this borough - in so far as its image could have been said to exist beyond a ten-mile radius - suggests there is nothing intrinsically negative about the region which imaginative programming and expensive, groundbreaking architecture could not overcome.

But as always in matters of tourism and urban regeneration, the concept of critical mass is crucial. London has it in spades, whereas Birmingham, Walsall and Wolverhampton may struggle individually to draw attention to their admirable but numerically limited art venues.

So they have decided to join forces. Under the banner of the M6 Galleries, they are planning a joint strategy to convey the idea that visitors can string together visits to two or three galleries in the region as easily as they can navigate the London art scene.

There are eight partners in the project, ranging from Warwick Arts Centre's Mead Gallery in the south to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke, in the north.

The others are the New Art Gallery, Walsall, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, and four Birmingham venues - the Museum and Art Gallery, Barber Institute, Ikon Gallery and MAC.

'The idea is basically to give a focus, to recognise that we're not in competition with each other,' explains Helen Large, marketing officer of Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

'We know that when Walsall opened, we benefited from that. Our competition is much wider - we're competing for people's leisure time. We were all doing very well with local audiences but the challenge was to attract people from further afield. They might not think of coming to Walsall and Wolverhampton or the Barber Institute in the same day but the West Midlands offers a real diversity of collections and exhibitions, linked by excellent roads and public transport.'

Walsall and Wolverhampton led the first moves as long ago as 1996 but the consortium steps up a gear with a new corporate identity and campaign, including the website

Target audiences include the shire counties surrounding the urban conurbation and the London media, who are notoriously difficult to lure north of Watford. …