Pallant House Gallery in confident mood as reopening beckons

Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery will reopen on May 18.

Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 7:05 am
Simon Martin

“It feels really good to be approaching the reopening… for the third time!”, says gallery director Simon Martin.

And the gallery is doing so with confidence high, having survived all the challenges of successive lockdowns and the hit of a £350,000 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. Then, after a two-week turnaround, the gallery will launch into a major Ben Nicholson exhibition for the summer.

“When we reopened for the first time (last August), there was a certain amount of trepidation about whether people would come back, but we had done a huge amount of preparation in terms of technology, making sure there was more air circulating the building, changing the doors with magnetic closers and introducing the one-way system.

“This time, of course, we have got all those systems in place, and we have got the online booking system which works really well. What we have been doing over the past couple of months is redecorating the historic house, just trying to make the most of this opportunity. We also did some redecorating last year when we were closed. Having the opportunity to do these works when the building is empty is really rare.”

It also helps confidence that the reopening exhibitions are the ones which were in place when the building closed, Degas to Picasso: International Modern Masters and also Richard Hamilton.

“We opened last December with Degas to Picasso and opened for a couple of weeks before the closure. The exhibitions are ready to go. We did a lot of work on those exhibitions so it is good to be able to give people more time to see them. And then we will have a short change-over before going into the Ben Nicholson.

“It has been a challenging year, but we have managed to remain positive and optimistic. A lot of people are keen to get back. We have had staff coming into the building and I have been coming into the building a couple of times a week. Working from home has been a bit relentless, and I just think everybody is really keen to return.

“I hope people will know that we are still controlling numbers for the foreseeable future and that should give people reassurance that they can some back safely and that it won’t be super-busy.

“It is going to be much safer than going to Waitrose. People are all going in the same direction and people in a gallery are encouraged not to touch anything anyway, just to look, and people in a gallery tend to give each other space anyway. So from that perspective, I think we will be fine.

“We did have quite a few people that came last year and I just think people will be really looking forward to coming back, just to have the experience of being uplifted by art.

“People will really appreciate that. There is something very inspirational about seeing great art works that take you out of the difficulties of your everyday life.

“And also people will looking forward to seeing friends again, to meeting up over lunch in the gallery café.”

Again helping confidence is the fact that the gallery will be reopening with huge faith in its own resilience.

“We have learnt a lot from the experience. I think the staff and the volunteers have been tremendous. People have had all kinds of things going on in their own lives, but everybody has remained focused on keeping the gallery going.

“But we have now got quite a bit of fund-raising to do to fill the hole with the loss of income. We can’t run on a deficit. But we have managed to bring down costs over the past year.”

The fact that the reopening exhibitions are drawn from the gallery’s own permanent collection has meant a saving in travel costs and fees – and could signal one of the ways ahead.

“When people go abroad to the major galleries, they go to see the permanent collections very often, and one of the lessons of the past year is that people will come to see our own permanent collection. It is something people are excited to see, and I do think this summer there will be a lot of staycations.

“People will love to come to Sussex to see all the attractions that we have got.”