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Disgruntled artists demand answers over controversial plans for Hall Place gallery

PUBLISHED: 07:00 20 February 2019

Artists protested at Bexley Council over the plans for Hall Place. Photo: Tom Bull

Artists protested at Bexley Council over the plans for Hall Place. Photo: Tom Bull

Archant

Concerned artists turned out at Bexley Council to seek answers over controversial plans for a gallery at Hall Place.

The council has already approved proposals to revamp the historic mansion, including merging the gallery with a new shop to increase footfall.

Part of the £600k investment will be a new playground, artisan market and visitor hub – but artists in the borough say their beloved gallery will be impacted by plans to downsize it.

A row has broken out over the future of the gallery at the Grade II listed attraction, with artists fearing the move would drive the scene out of the borough.

Speaking at a scrutiny meeting, Sheila Ottley said artists were being disproportionately affected by the plans.

Mrs Ottley, who has been exhibiting at Hall Place since the 70s, said: “I support many of the exciting investments you are making however, to date, my colleagues and I are struggling to understand how a shop will help support self-sustainability as my understanding is previous shops have struggled to turn a profit.

“Are you comfortable taking steps to significantly reduce the Stables’ size when it is, one, a natural cultural fit, and two, it supports the borough’s art scene and is a driving force in returning groups, and, three, provides a safe space for the older artist community?”

The revamp of Hall Place – which will include charging people to visit the gardens – are part of a wider plan to move the attraction into turning a profit and being “self-sustainable”.

The plans for the gallery have already been rejigged in light of concerns from the art community.

Cllr Peter Craske told the artists the revamp is needed to keep Hall Place running.

He said: “The plans are arguably things that should have been done in previous years. We worked with a retail consultant and have taken their advice on the shop, the layout and the choice of goods.

“It will bring in substantial income and support the move to self-sufficiency.

“The layout of the gallery and the shop have been amended, and part of it will be moved into the new visitors’ centre. That will ensure the gallery has a better ambience.

“We are investing in new furniture to display new art – the key components of the gallery will be retained following the refurbishment so it still fits the site and reflects the nature of the site and supports the borough’s art scene.

“As part of the layout, everyone who comes will go out through that way so hopefully that will generate more visitors.”

Local artists have already set up a petition asking for the plans to be rethought, previously claiming the move was an “attack” on the borough’s creative scene.

Mrs Ottley said the voluntary organisation would struggle to survive if the plans move forward as they are.

Speaking after the meeting, she said: “We are pleased to have raised our concerns to the council about the proposed changes to the Stables Art Gallery.

“While we are strong and passionate advocates for retaining the gallery in all its glory, we are reassured that the council is listening and will continue to scrutinise its planned refurbishment.”

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