A visit to The Box on its opening day in September 2020. Photo credit: Wayne Perry

Hearts for the Arts 2021 Shortlist – The Box, Plymouth

Plymouth City Council's The Box has been shortlisted for Best Arts Project in the 2021 Hearts for the Arts Awards.

The Box is a major new museum, gallery and archive that tells the unique stories of Plymouth and its place in the world. It emerged through the total transformation of the previous Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery and Plymouth City Library buildings and the addition of an extensive contemporary extension. It brings together five historic collections that were previously housed across twelve sites. Its scale is impressive with 14 exhibition spaces, a new contemporary art gallery in a historic church, a new public square, dining, and a beautifully curated shop.

By coining the phrase ‘more than a building’ when talking about creating The Box, the narrative shifted away from property to people. The Box was envisioned as a centre for learning for 0 to 99-year-olds, a cultural visitor attraction and a transformational regeneration project at the heart of Plymouth city centre. Plymouth Council believe that investing in arts and culture enables us to address issues that other cities may see as competing priorities: driving economic growth, raising aspirations and improving community cohesion. They see cultural investment as a way to drive a high return in terms of jobs, skills, tourism, investment and civic pride. The Box is not about art for art’s sake; it is a catalyst for place-based community regeneration.

The Box has created opportunities to combine the old and the new, with a major focus on contemporary art installations that respond to the historic collections. ‘Making It’ is The Box’s first contemporary art programme, and it features the work of six contemporary international artists; Antunes (Portugal), Baker (USA), da Cunha (Brazil), Gormley (UK), Grubinger (Austria) and Wiley (USA).

The project has become a catalyst for other artistic and cultural opportunities in Plymouth, including the hosting of the British Art Show in 2021 and the installation of a landscape transforming sculpture by Antony Gormley, ‘Look II’.

Even through the pandemic, creative opportunities continued when the Council put out a call for 20 micro-commissions from local artists in response to the pandemic. The results of which can be viewed here.

The Box had a strong 6-week period when it opened at the in September 2020 receiving a total of 22,500 visitors before it was forced to close again by the second national lockdown at the start of November.

The opening of The Box generated over £1million of media coverage putting Plymouth on the map in a positive way. This has been reflected in the comments from local people in numerous reviews and social media posts. Plymouth pride is on the up! 

What the judges said:

Full marks to the team for opening during 2020!  Loved the micro-commissions and felt heartened by the positive comments left by public.

The Box is a fantastic tribute to the commitment of all those who have worked on the project and will hopefully offer an important resource for local people and visitors to the area for many years to come. We were impressed by the Council’s acknowledgement of the central value of culture in placemaking and the wide range of partnerships that were established to bring investment to the project.