Hadrian Ellory-van Dekker, the new director responsible for driving the project to build a museum and art gallery in Swindon has explained the benefits of locating it on the now empty site between the Wyvern Theatre and the magistrates court, and also when he wants it to open.
Appointed by the recently formed Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust, Hadrian, pictured, started work in mid-June, coming from a high profile position as head of collections and chief curator at the Science Museum, preceded by 15 years at the British Museum
The Swindon project requires a compelling case to be made to the Heritage Lottery Fund to contribute £12million to the £20 million cost of building the new attraction, the balance being met by corporate sponsors, donations from trusts and £5million from Swindon Borough Council.
Hadrian was featured on the June Link magazine front page setting out his vision for the project. His first few weeks have been spent learning more about Swindon and meeting key players in the cultural scene. But he’s keen for readers to understand that the museum and art gallery will not be an expensive folly for the elite.
He said: “One thing I fight against is the rather clumsy shorthand which sees all culture as elitist; that’s not what I’m about. And I’m not here either to create a place for the upper middle classes so that they can pretend to understand modern art.
“Everybody has potential and one of the wonderful things about the Swindon art collection is its ability to help people question and discover their own creativity. It doesn’t mean that everybody becomes art aficionados, but it’s a catalyst for something more.”
As the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust formulates its proposals and seeks funding, Hadrian hopes to start organising events on the site to create a buzz in the town centre, as a way of communicating to people that things are starting to move.
He envisages temporary outdoor exhibitions and performances, to create the sense of possibility. Hadrian said: “There is already a lot of cultural activity in Swindon and the site offers opportunities to develop relationships with organisations and individuals who will contribute ideas to the project.”
Responding to the July Link article by Daniel Rose of the Mechanics’ Institution Trust, which argued that the museum and art gallery should be located in the old GWR Carriage Works in the railway village. Hadrian said: “There is a reason for Steam Museum to be in the building it occupies; there isn’t a reason for the art gallery to be in the Carriage Works.
“The key point about the project is both building a more fit for purpose house for the Swindon art collection, and using the collection to do something different in the town centre. Many people drive to Swindon to the designer outlet centre for retail and hopefully go on to Steam, but then they don’t have a real draw into the town centre. Similarly if people travel by train and walk down the road to the museum, they’ll then depart having only had a limited experience of the town.
“In effect locating the museum and art gallery in the railway village would create more footfall for the designer outlet; people would have little reason to explore further.
“We have the opportunity to create and vibrant, interesting place relevant to everybody. Despite the scepticism I’ve been hearing, the new museum and gallery will not be the existing relocated into a bright new building with more space and better disabled access. It will be a totally different approach which celebrates the strength of the collection, more about engagement and participation rather than quiet contemplation of beautiful things.
“There is a clear economic argument for the new museum and art gallery as a driver for regeneration; its a model which has succeeded many other places. It’s also about the lasting impact on every person who lives here, particularly every child growing up in the town.”
Hadrian is focussing on 2020 as the target to open the new museum and art gallery, one hundred years after Swindon’s first museum opened in the town hall. And he promises that space will be found for the present museum’s famous crocodile. “It’s the one artefact people remember from childhood visits and always ask me about. She’s still with us and in good condition; I hope her place in people’s memory will spark imaginations and draw them to the idea of the new museum.
“This is about widening cultural horizons whilst regenerating the town; it’s about a good future for Swindon.”
Read Hadrian’s first interview with Swindon media
Read Daniel Rose’s argument for the new museum and art gallery to be located in the carriage works