They’re going to feel this move as soon as they see it | Syd Field

The reintroduction of the long-dead Massey Hall is as good a harbinger of the wild west as any More than ever before in the ongoing deterioration of the UK arts landscape, it’s time to…

They're going to feel this move as soon as they see it | Syd Field

The reintroduction of the long-dead Massey Hall is as good a harbinger of the wild west as any

More than ever before in the ongoing deterioration of the UK arts landscape, it’s time to consider the harm that practice can do. The much-needed rebirth of the Massey Hall under the patronage of the British Museum is not just good for the building and culture in the long term, but it’s good for future generations as well.

The steps taken to make the transformation to a sound and compelling cultural powerhouse have been quite extraordinary. Northolt Town Hall’s management proposed over a decade ago to create an oversubscribed visitor scheme for massey hall. This is not easy. It takes time and resources to set up and run. Fortunately, the owners of Northolt and engineering consultants Docomomo had the foresight to recognise what a huge opportunity there was in establishing a model programme within what was a massive derelict building. Docomomo brought in a leading arts management consultancy, ISG+Haulbrook, who led the property redevelopment.

And the public at large has been hugely supportive of the public art installation surrounding the new site that is as beautiful as it is eccentric. Not because it’s done the Massey Hall, it does not, but because it’s fun and encourages visitors. That’s because there’s been no separate or overwhelming urge to get inside the building. It’s right up there as one of the most brilliant public art installations I’ve seen in a long time.

The artwork was commissioned by the Massey Hall restoration partnership, the British Museum, the British Council and is made up of reinterpretations of the graphics of the early museum, which in itself is a stunning piece of design and usage. The design clearly encourages people to stroll around and enjoy the views. The library, 150 years after the opening, will also now provide a reading room for visually impaired visitors. There will be a swathe of shops – a mixture of visitor and produce based. An attraction and a civic centre are taking shape in a London borough with some of the country’s highest deprivation in health, education and employment, which is part of the solution.

The reopening of Massey Hall is not in and of itself a panacea for the many ills of public sector life. Public funding and generous philanthropy could, alongside creative and financial enablers, provide the foundation on which to push forward. That work hasn’t even started yet, but it will be something like the old adage that has been proven true again – don’t do something unless you know how to do it. It’s astonishing to see how much the collaboration and everyone coming together has resulted in something quite remarkable. It could be a launch pad for many other public engagement projects like this too. For many people it will be like a shot of adrenaline to breathe in and the reassurance that change is possible, and sometimes it’s delightful.

For the city of Northolt, like so many, the reopening of the Massey Hall is a short haul from a catastrophic decline into economic deprivation. It has transformed themselves, reclaiming the Northolt name for a local place and restoring pride in the community. Not one but two architectural and structural landmarks in the heart of central London – the Waterloo Bridge Bridge is also the first public art installation developed by the British Museum for London. It may look like a tall chimney stack, but its panoramic views are the envy of most venues in the capital.

The inauguration next week of the new Massey Hall will be marked with a the reopening of the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, seen as a deserved exercise in multipurpose programming for a variety of acts of every genre. The landscape of arts provision in the UK has improved since the opening of Purcell last year, but it remains to be seen what permanent architectural work that will provide.

We know, and have heard, enough of the narrative about the public sector and its need to hand over all of its power to a private sector that is almost entirely self-sufficient. The sad truth is that the Massey Hall and its openings are a good start on what is likely to be an era where the funding of arts and culture is questioned for being out of date and unaffordable. But the new Massey Hall opens with an optimism and optimism that can only emerge from government commitment. With any luck, it could lead to more such memorable public spaces and keep our arts and culture thriving for the benefit of the next generation.

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