Pallant House Gallery confirms reopening date

Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery is aiming to reopen on May 18.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 6:05 am
Simon Martin

It will do so with confidence, having survived all the challenges of successive lockdowns and the hit of a £300,000 loss in income.

The gallery will reopen its doors with an extension of the current Degas to Picasso: International Modern Masters exhibition which was due to close in April and will now run until Sunday, June 13 2021. Then, after a two-week turnaround, the gallery will launch into a major Ben Nicholson exhibition for the summer.

It will be a relief: “This lockdown has felt particularly long,” says Pallant House Gallery director Simon Martin. “With the background situation in January, it was all particularly worrying for everybody with the numbers of deaths and infections and the new strains coming in. Because everybody had had much more experience of it, coming up for a year, it all felt much more wearing for people. Because all our staff and volunteers and visitors had had that experience of thinking they were coming out of it all, it was all so much more difficult.

“But with the government announcement, it is really good now to have the certainty of when we can reopen. We had opened the new season of exhibitions with Degas to Picasso, and we drew on our own permanent collection for these exhibitions – and that feels absolutely the right decision. We will now extend them into June.

“The next exhibition after that is the big Ben Nicholson. We have already postponed that three times, changing the dates. We couldn’t have changed them again. We had to say that we would have the Ben Nicholson at the end of June whatever happened. But we will have just two weeks for the change-over. Usually we would have three. So we will have the whole of the summer for the big Ben Nicholson show.”

Increasing the confidence around Pallant House Gallery’s reopening is the fact that the gallery enjoyed three successful months open to the public last year.

As Simon Martin says: “We had really nice visitor feedback. We had the Good To Go kitemark. We will really feel we know what we are doing. There will be less anxiety. Last time round there were concerns about how the one-way system would work, but now we know exactly how it will work.”

One of the lessons the gallery learnt was the advantage of timed tickets, spreading the visitors and allowing a much better experience for everyone: “We will continue with timed tickets, definitely for this year. We want to make sure that people coming back feel safe as the vaccine roll-out continues throughout the country.

“Initially I think we will have a very local focus. It is going to be really great to welcome our local audiences back, and then I suspect later in the summer we will be welcoming a lot of UK tourism. I hope Pallant House Gallery will be one of the key attractions attracting tourism back to the region. That’s something we really want back so we are hoping for a strong and long summer season. And we also want to be welcoming people back through the community programme. We have been working on how we can start doing workshops in person again. During this time we have had telephone buddies and we have been sending out art materials.”

Once they are reopen, Simon suspects he and the team will all look back on the 14 months of the pandemic as a period for learning: “And we have learnt to understand that we are a resilient organisation and that we have been able to adapt to provide access to our collection in a different way. We are now making sure that digital is completely integral to our thinking. It wasn’t before, to be honest. We were so focused on our physical visitors to the gallery. We were seeing digital as a way of getting people in physically, but now we will be looking at it as something really important in itself.”

The gallery talks are a key example. Within the gallery, they reach 80 people maximum. Online, they can reach unlimited numbers of people around the world.

“It is a different way of thinking.”

The pandemic has also taught the gallery how well regarded it is: “It has made people really appreciate us, which has been really good. People have realised the value of art and culture in their lives. Our team has been really amazing in quite difficult circumstances, really focusing on what the core is of what we do – which is connecting people to art. I am so proud of what we were able to achieve as a gallery for those months that we were open and that we had such a good response.”

As for the £300,000 loss of income, as Simon says: “It is a big hole, but it is not as bad as some organisations. We will be doing some fundraising, and we have also made cuts with the programme to save money. Usually, each season would be costing us £100,000 to put on, all the costs, all the loans. But because we drew on our own permanent collection, we managed to do the winter season for much less, and our patrons have given donations. We have had to be resourceful. We have had to cut costs and cut our cloth accordingly. But at the same time it is also really important to have things to look forward to.”

Next year is the gallery’s 40th birthday.