The Public, West Bromwich

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The Public Building

The Public was a multi-purpose venue and art gallery in West Bromwich, West Midlands, England, at the forefront of a regional regeneration programme which was – by late 2013– to also bring Europe's biggest Tesco, a multiplex cinema, restaurants and a new retail centre.[1][2][3] It closed in November 2013.[4]

Despite indications that the arts centre would be at the forefront of West Bromwich's 'Golden Future'[3] on 9 May 2013 it was announced that Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council were in discussion with Sandwell College to potentially lease The Public for use as a sixth-form college. The College's own sixth-form is oversubscribed with six applicants for every place.[5][6][7]

In 2012–13 there were 380,000 visitors to the building from all sections of society – an increase of over 40% from the previous year.[8][9] The Public's mission is to be a place where people come to create and make things for themselves and to enjoy other people's creativity – an echo of Cedric Price's concept of a Fun Palace. In 2012, The Guardian's Robert Clark described The Public as "a playground for adults" and that "maybe that's a good role for a contemporary art gallery to embrace".[10]

It is also home to 27 small companies as well as the Sandwell Arts Trust, who manage the building. Between them they employ around 120 people with a further 120 digital media apprentices.[11]

An article in the previously critical Express and Star in 2012 demonstrated that The Public was finally winning local people over and had found its purpose,[12] and that the odds of it having become one of the region's success stories had been quite remote in the recent past.

The Public closed on November 23, 2013.[13]


The project grew out of the work by Jubilee Arts (founded 1974) whose mission was to enhance the lives of the local community through artistic programmes and endeavours. One aim of this group was to create a building which would serve as a permanent piece of art, be visually and structurally challenging and provide a place for community groups to gather to carry on the vision of Jubilee Arts.

British architect Will Alsop was selected to design the building with construction beginning in May 2003. Running over budget and with a number of organisations supporting the project going into liquidation and administration, The Public finally opened to visitors in 2008 (chiefly the ground floor), with construction of the ramp and digital artworks being completed in 2009. The building was finally completed in 2010 with the opening of its Level 2 Conference Suite and finalisation of office space on Level 4.

The building is now operated and run by Sandwell Arts Trust (established August 2009) and features exhibition space, interactive art works, cafe bar, theatre, conference and meeting rooms and office space.

By end of June 2013, Sandwell Arts Trust have indicated that 1,000,000 visitors will have been through the doors.

Arts Centre[edit]

Despite all its problems, The Public became an icon of the region and drew in visitors from the local area as well the Midlands and beyond.[citation needed] It was still reliant on public-subsidy but also gained income from hires,[14] tenants and events, and planned to increase earned income once the building work that had surrounded was completed in summer 2013.

The visual arts programme attracted work by notable contemporary artists, alongside work by local artists. This approach helped raise the profile of art in an area where participation had been low. In summer 2013 Ordinary/Extra/Ordinary,[15] curated by David Thorp was the main show, bringing together work by Tracey Emin, David Shrigley, Jeremy Deller among others as well as a new commission from Birmingham artist Lucy McLauchlan. Later in the summer, the Annual Summer Open was due to show local talent.[11]

Previous exhibitions included The Art of Motion with work by Maurice Broomfield, a collaboration with other local art organisations and schools celebrating the work of local popular author Janet and Allan Ahlberg[16] and contributions from well-known artists including photographer Martin Parr.[16]

The Public was home to an eclectic programme of events with comedy shows from established names like Al Murray, Jenny Eclair and Alexei Sayle,[17] music featuring up and coming bands as well as a wide range of activities from tea dancing to knitting that were led by local people.[18][19][20]


The construction and early history of the building were beset by many problems. The development had been highly controversial and encountered financial difficulties, going into administration before the expected opening date of July 2006, due to the withholding of a final tranche of £2 million that was due to be contributed by Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council.[citation needed] Further controversy surrounded plans by The Public Gallery Limited to introduce a regular entry fee of £6.95. These plans were scrapped and The Arts Council agreed to a further £3 million grant, allowing The Public to grant free entry to the gallery to allow it to open in 2008–2009.

In November 2004 Alsop Architects left the project and architect Julian Flannery of Flannery & de la Pole took responsibility for the detailed design of the building interiors and for overseeing construction, which at that stage was around one third complete. In the summer of 2006 the practice developed a new brief and completion strategy for the project and several areas of the building, such as the Theatre, the Pink Tank Cafe and the Level 2 Flexible Space were fully redesigned.

Following the issue and problems, Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council took over the building in 2009 and established the organisation Sandwell Arts Trust (a subsidiary of Sandwell Leisure Trust) to run and operate the building under license.

The Public, viewed from the north
View from the north west
The Scribble
Pink Tank


The project has been commended for its "exciting and vibrant lighting scheme”.[21] Kevan Shaw lighting Design won the Lighting Design Awards in the Public Buildings Category on 12 March 2009. KSLD stated that "The lighting is designed to be an integral part of the experience of the building. Both colour and dynamics are employed to create a remarkable series of events within the multiform interior.″[22] "The Public features specific treatments that range from the visual excitement of pink neon scrawled across the ceiling to the simple fluorescent fittings which are programmed to follow the flow of people and features in the "1001 Buildings to See Before You Die List" ″[23]


  1. ^ "Ex-Bullring boss in new role at West Bromwich New Square development". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  2. ^ "Exhibition to show off £200m West Bromwich development". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  3. ^ a b "£200m vision of West Bromwich's future". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  4. ^ "£72m gallery closes after five years". 9 August 2013. Retrieved 16 May 2018 – via
  5. ^ Haywood, Bob (19 May 2013). "Investors in The Public could be set to sue". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  6. ^ "Balloons launched to fight plan for Public". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  7. ^ Hatherley, Owen (22 May 2013). "When culture is treated as commodity, no wonder its temples are sold off - Owen Hatherley". the Guardian. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  8. ^ "Number of visitors soars at The Public". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  9. ^ "The Public arts centre triples visitors over three years". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  10. ^ Clark, Robert; Sherwin, Skye (2 June 2012). "This week's new exhibitions". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  11. ^ a b "Tracy Emin and Martin Creed works at The Public, West Bromwich". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  12. ^ "How The Public is winning people over". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  13. ^ Holyoak, Joe (9 January 2014). "Why this public 'box of delights' needs to keep some of its meaning". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  14. ^ "The Public making money as a conference venue". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  15. ^ "New Black Country exhibition to showcase international artists' work". Halesowen News. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  16. ^ a b "Allan Ahlberg exhibition at The Public, West Bromwich". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  17. ^ "Review: Alexei Sayle at The Public in West Bromwich". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  18. ^ "John Challis: Here I was greeted by a sea of faces - all mine". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  19. ^ "Artist Goldie is inspiration for Martin's gallery display". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  20. ^ "Across the region - how we celebrated the Royal Wedding". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  21. ^ "Lighting Design Awards official website". Archived from the original on 28 March 2010. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  22. ^ Sharp. E. KSLD press release March 2009
  23. ^ "Lighting Design Award winners include LED projects, products". Retrieved 16 May 2018.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°31′08″N 1°59′35″W / 52.518901°N 1.993048°W / 52.518901; -1.993048