A public campaign aims to save Derry's Turner Prize venue from an artless future
A public meeting has been held outside building 80/81, where the 2013 Turner Prize was held, as culture lovers in the most recent City of Culture bid to save the widely-acclaimed Ebrington gallery from imminent plans to turn the space into business premises.
© Void Gallery
Organisers from Void gallery, which played an equally important role in the Northern Irish city’s impressive spell as the UK City of Culture 2013, are warning that Ebrington could become “lifeless” if the building works, which could begin by the end of January, take place. The £2.5 million development created a modern, condition-controlled gallery, winning praise from critics and residents who flocked to the Turner Prize exhibition.
“Our small city became huge in 2013 – let’s not belittle ourselves in 2014,” said a statement from the gallery, crediting Ebrington with the arrival of a “confluence of community” around the former barracks.
“We built something beautiful during city of culture – let’s not rip the heart out of the spirit of 2013. Contemporary art would thrive on this site.
“Void knows, from the leading role we have played in visual arts provision in 2013, how crucial this space has been in raising the profile of contemporary art in Derry.
“More importantly, the creation of this space gave us access to art of the highest calibre – something that should be seen not as a privilege for a year, but a basic human right.
“Art gives us a context in which to see ourselves as part of a wider and richer world. This is no time to lower our horizons.”
An accompanying online petition hopes to enlist 10,000 supporters. One of the signatories, a local artist, said exhibition and studio spaces were “ridiculously difficult” to find in the city.
“It seems unbelievable that they would want to shut down a venue that was the first outside of the UK ever to host the Turner Prize,” they wrote.
Artist Bob and Roberta Smith said maintaining an internationally-renowned art space would be the City of Culture’s greatest legacy.
“The stakes were raised by holding the City of Culture in Derry and it has proved a huge success,” he added, calling Ebrington a “symbol of future hope”.
“We must grasp this once-in-a-generation chance.”
Willie Doherty, the Derry-born former Turner Prize nominee who was one of the contributors to the City of Culture exhibition programme, added his opposition to plans which are expected to result in a “digital hub” of offices at Ebrington.
The International Association of Art Critics suggested the decision would invite negativity towards the city.
“It is incredible that so many column inches have been printed about the success of the visual arts programme, and then this action removes any sense of legacy in a single swoop,” they said, echoed by Visual Artists Ireland, who claimed Derry could become “a case study” of the “difficult legacy when culture is used and then pushed aside in favour of unsubstantiated planning.”
“Will people cross the bridge to visit a digital hub?” they asked.
“No, but they will cross it to engage with the visual arts. Reward the local organisations, the people of Derry and all of Northern Ireland by continuing the visual arts programme.”
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More on the City of Culture 2013:
Review: Andrei Molodkin at Void Gallery
Lumiere Festival lights up Derry-Londonderry
Laure Prouvost wins the Turner Prize 2013