Plymouth’s £47million cultural center The Box is aiming to attract 200,000 visitors next year and establish itself as a major tourist attraction.
The Box attracted 125,000 visitors in 2021 but has not had a full year of operation without Covid-related closures since its completion in early 2020.
But the February semester week has been very busy with 20,000 visitors and new chief executive Victoria Pomery plans to attract 10 times that number in 2022/23, her first unrestricted fiscal year.
Although The Box receives public funding, it still needs to make money from retail and other operations and Ms Pomery wants it to generate income to help support 75 full-time equivalent jobs and a team of approximately 160 volunteers.
But Ms Pomery, formerly the head of the Turner Contemporary in Margate, is also determined that The Box generates visitors to the British town of Ocean City and helps its businesses as well as the education and mental wellbeing of its population.
“In our next fiscal year, we want 200,000 visitors,” she said. “We haven’t had a full year of opening yet, we were closed until May 17th.
“At Margate we had a peak in visitors (after the initial opening) then it plateaued and then recovered. We didn’t have a major spike here in Plymouth but had to close almost immediately after opening. So we hope it will increase gradually.
She said British Arts Show 7 in 2011 was “a real catalyst” for the city’s focus on the visual arts and that the arrival of British Arts Show 9 between October and December this year is also a key opportunity for the city, saying, “It’s very exciting, it’s about new ideas.”
And she added: “I have the ambition to drive visitors to the city, working with partners such as Destination Plymouth, and to reinforce the message that Plymouth is a city to visit and a place to come on weekends. -end, especially out of season. There are many places to visit in Plymouth.
“But we have to change perceptions. For example, London is not that far away. Plymouth is a fantastic city with one of the best waterfronts in the world. It has a lot of history, is very dynamic, has an incredible heritage and very exciting cultural activities.
The Box earns a crust from its restaurant and retail offering but relies on a ‘high level’ of public investment, although Ms Pomery stressed that, in turn, this has a ripple effect on the city’s economy and the well-being of its citizens.
‘We need creative thinkers, and that goes for people going into business, for example, and to ensure Britain develops into the future,’ she said.
The Box has strengths in image collections and licensing, which can generate revenue. It also relies on the generosity of donors and sponsors, trusts and foundations.
“We go from capital fundraising to income, it’s very different,” Ms Pomery said. “I would love to hear from anyone in town who would like to support us in any way they can.”
She sees her role as putting culture at the heart of the city’s transformation and said, “I believe in the power of the arts to bring about social and economic change. The value of the Box is not only to be economically viable,” she said. “But, yes, we want to make money.”
She said this will become even more important as public sector investment in the arts continues to decline. But she stressed: “We want the Box to be at the heart of city life. It is important that the people of Plymouth have access to learning and to beautiful, interesting and stimulating things, whether they are works by artists or objects from our collection.
Ms Pomery was the founding director of Turner Contemporary, Margate, but left after 19 years in office and the gallery’s first 10 years in operation. She oversaw the capital project which delivered the David Chipperfield-designed building on the town’s seafront and was awarded an OBE for service to the arts in 2012 and an honorary doctorate from the University of Kent in 2020.
She said while Margate’s center rests on its connection to artist JMW Turner, Plymouth can be pivoted on its connection to Sir Joshua Reynolds, “born six miles away”.
“But Plymouth is a different place to Margate and the collection here is very different,” she said. “Plymouth was very bold and ambitious and the investment in this box is huge, this box in the sky. And many thanks to Plymouth City Council for their vision to go all the way. Arts Council funding England could have gone elsewhere, but he came to Plymouth.
Ms Pomery also praised St Luke’s Gallery, created from a former chapel opposite The Box as part of the overall scheme, and said: “It’s a wonderful space to showcase art contemporary.”
Business Live’s South West business reporter is William Telford. William has over a decade of experience reporting on the business scene in Plymouth and the South West. It is based in Plymouth but covers the whole region.
Staying in touch: BusinessLive newsletters have been redesigned to make them even better. We send morning bulletins straight to your inbox on the latest news, views and opinions in the South West. Also receive our latest news alerts and weekly industry reviews. Join now – it’s free and only takes a minute. To subscribe to Business Live’s daily newsletters, click here.
And visit the Business Live South West LinkedIn page here
Although Ms Pomery is not originally from Plymouth, she knows the South West well – her father was born in Cornwall and she grew up in Somerset.
“Plymouth is a fantastic city, the best kept secret in the country,” she said. I’m a Plymouth fan, and the Box is a fantastic collection, bringing together contemporary art, miscellaneous collections and historical items, and a very eclectic range of research material. That’s the main reason I’m here.
She said Plymouth had its own ‘vibrant’ culture with the Theater Royal, T2, Plymouth University and Plymouth College of Art forming a ‘cultural quarter’, as well as Ocean Studios, Flameworks and Market Hall in Devonport , and its public art. including Antony Gormley’s incredible Look II sculpture at The Hoe and Richard Deacon’s Moor installation near Pennycomequick.
“He’s one of the great sculptors in the country,” she said. “And his job is here in Plymouth.”