The Gardner Arts centre, which has been shut since April 2007 due to funding cuts is to be reopened, the University of Sussex Council announced last week.
The Council has approved refurbishment work which could start as early as 2009 and which could be ready in time for the University’s 50th anniversary in 2011-2012.
The grade II listed building, designed by Sir Basil Spence and named “one of the south coast’s most thriving art centres” by The Guardian in 2006, currently holds a 482 capacity theatre. It has in the past presented over 300 theatre, dance, music, comedy, film and family events every year, as well as adult education classes and exhibitions.
Brighton and Hove city council withdrew the venue’s annual £30,000 grant in November 2006, with effect from April 2007. The council funding was redirected to city centre venues, after concerns that the centre was not servicing the city itself. Despite Arts Council England describing it as showing “commitment to presenting and supporting the best emerging companies”, the Gardner was unable to meet criteria that would attract Arts Council funding. The board therefore took the decision to close the centre after its 2007 spring season, due to much needed refurbishment work.
The newly approved and much needed £3.8m – £4.8m investment will provide a flexible auditorium with a mixture of up to three stages, up to 500 seats; an exhibition gallery; a café; and three studios of different sizes. The proposal, which Council approved at its meeting on 21 November, proposes that the Gardner building becomes the focus of a new Centre for Practice-Based Research in the Humanities, playing a central role in the academic programmes and research of the arts and humanities schools.
The Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Layzell, says: “The Gardner building is set to become an exciting and stimulating venue for the exploration, presentation and study of creativity and the creative arts.”
Plans are set to include links to Brighton’s several festival seasons, exchanges with other universities, conferences and involvement from independent, national and international arts companies.
A strong emphasis is also being placed on interior, Sussex student driven activities:
shows, exhibition and performance through graduate shows to student-promoted activity. This will come as a welcome relief to the Sussex University Drama society who are currently limited to extremely small venues, such as the Falmer Debating Chamber.
Current plans are sill tentative, however, as consultations with possible external stake-holders, such as Arts Council England and Brighton festival, are yet to be held. The Business case for investment is set to be prepared for 2009.