* Prices may differ from that shown
Walsall's New Art Gallery was built 10 years ago and replaced the former are gallery which was squeezed into Walsall's library. The builidng is iconic in status and impressive to look upon as it towers above the nearby canal wharf.
A visit to the art gallery is free of charge although contribution boxes are present should you choose to put a little back in to its upkeep! The gallery is popular with schoolchildren and an area of the ground floor is specifically designated to them. It houses a number of interactive experiences and has always been one of the busier areas of the gallery during my visits.
The gallery is home to a large number of works from Epstein that were also on show in the old art gallery. Where the new gallery really comes in to its own is in the ever changing exhitions that it puts on that the old gallery never had the space to. As such, there is always something different to see and experience with each visit.
At the moment, the gallery is hosting exhibits from Bob and Roberta Smith, an iconic advertising and packaging exhibit, a fairytales exhibit and a special "party!" exhibit to mark the gallery's 10th anniversary.
The gallery is open between 10am-5pm on weekdays and closes an hour earlier at the weekend. It is home to a coffee shop on the ground floor as well as a souvenir shop. It is easy to find and is just behind the BHS in Walsall's town centre.
I can't believe this place is 10 years old this year! This building has really come to symbolize Walsall and it has put it on the map.
The art gallery is the first place the kids want to go when we go to Walsall and its not surprising because I have been taking them there since they were tiny. The staff know us now and always greet us when we go in.
There is a childrens area to the left as soon as you go in the building. It contains several art based activities that bring the exhibits to life. There is an area where children can dress up like the characters in the painting on the wall, as well as a puppet theatre, lots of musical instruments and a new fishing game, as well as computer touch screen games. It is very popular with school visits.
On the next floor there is an art library as well as a room that they use for the various kids art activities that the gallery hosts during the school holidays. Again, these activities are free and include things as varied as making photos without cameras and working with fabric and other materials to make artworks to take home.
The galleries permanent art collection is the Garman Ryan collection which boast works from many well known artists.
The third floor is an exhibition gallery, which hosts many weird and wonderful works of art. One display included a giant vat of bubbling chocolate, another, a huge block of marzipan!
At the very top of the gallery there is an outdoor viewing area which boasts great views of the skyline. In fact all the rooms in the gallery have excellent views of Walsall.
Even the lift has a unique feature. the voice is none other that the Midlands' own Noddy Holder!
There is a nice Costa coffee shop on the bottom floor which has a lovely view of the canal. There are often boats moored there and swans nearby.
Not bad for a free day out!
Quotation from Walsall Art Museum:
"The New Art Gallery Walsall opened in February 2000 in the heart of Walsall town centre. It is a unique civic building for Walsall and was made possible by £15.75 million Arts Lottery Funding and commissioned by Walsall Council which wanted the best for this vibrant West Midlands town."
How to get there
Placed in the town centre, the New Art Gallery dominates the west end of the main high street. Situated a stones throw away from the train station and not far from the bus station, it is quite easy to get too. Its cube design and sheer height means that anyone entering the town center by any means will find it easy to spot.
Disabled parking is available right next to the museum, however you'll find it a nightmare to get to as its a maze trough the back streets to get there. There is a car park at the Wharf10 bar next door, however that is for clientèle really and is quite small. The nearest half decent car park is either the Saddler's Center (entrance on Bridgeman street, but come in from the east side as from the west its very very tight corner) or the multi story car park on St Paul's street next to the college. Both have parking charges, and the Saddler's center has a more reliable (and clean) lift. If you use the Saddler's center, simply go down to the shop floors, up the escalator or lift by Goldsmiths and follow the entrance for Park street, then take a left and you cant miss it next to Woolworth's.
Please, don't try to find the car park mentioned on their website! It was right next door to the Leather Museum, but they are building a new ring road and at the moment its shut off and some of it is being dug up!
Admission is free, however in the children's section there is a chance for a photo to be took and that costs about £6. Various activities and events may cost, however they usually do label these rather carefully.
Views & exhibits
The main public gallery itself is on the 2nd floor. the ground floor is where the childrens center, shop and cafe are situated, the first floor is a library and archive, the third floor seems to be conference rooms and special displays/exhibits, and I assume the other remaining floors are storage and offices.
The public gallery floor is well laid out and rather open plan. Although the walls are plain white, the laminate wood flooring removes some of the 'clinical' feel of the place. All artwork is brilliantly labeled, and there is a children's activity station in each 'room' usually associated with a piece of art that is probably part of the 'staple' of the galleries displays.
Staff are around and helpful, however on the main gallery floor I did feel that at least one more attendant may have been necessary.
One of 'core' exhibits is that of a local artist. Called the 'Garman Collection' the exhibits house most of the artworks of Jacob Epstein. It was donated by his daughter I believe, who carries her mothers maiden name of 'Garman' (Just to confuse people). Part of the display is a really interesting video of Jacob Epstien's life and work.
* Quick note, when I visited they had a 'guest' painting in - it was Rolf Harris's portrait of the Queen and it was brilliant to look at!
The cafe is almost a run of the mill reasonably priced Costa Cafe franchise. Hot and cold food can be purchased and eaten on the premises. If you prefer something a little more 'alcoholic' the Wharf10 bar is just outside the door.
As you would expect of a building built in the last 10 years, facilities for the disabled have been carefully designed and installed so they dont look out of place. This includes some rather nice lifts.
On the ground level is a children's room. Various activities designed to stimulate and entrance the young are here, including various displays, peephole finders, crayons, art activities and even a 'what do you think this is made out of?' that will even amaze the parents.
One of the facilities in this room is dress up, with clothes from around the Victorian era. Staff can and will take photographs of your little darling all dressed up for a fee (about £6) on request so take your own camera.
Although there are some activities in the main gallery, I wouldn't possibly bother taking by 7 year old up as she would be bored.
Library & Archive
I didn't actually go in to see this, but did peep through the door. Apparently they have story time for children at 12:30 every Saturday and you can book to see their archive.
I feel that a lot of people will enjoy this museum, not just for the displays, but for the views out of the window! Its probably a wise idea to sign up for their mailing list in my opinion, as it would give you a good guide as when to go or not.
As an adult I did enjoy the museum, however as a parent I probably would have to mix this educational outing with one to say the Leather Museum and the main library simply because I feel although there is a lot in the children's center, it just wouldn't be enough to keep my children amused for a whole morning or afternoon.
Outside and in Walsall Art Museum doesn't just home art, it is art!