Embarrassment as £46m Baltic Centre suffers leaky roof

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The Independent Online

At first sight, the buckets littering the floor of the new Baltic Centre in Gateshead might have been interpreted as yet another example of incomprehensible modern art.

At first sight, the buckets littering the floor of the new Baltic Centre in Gateshead might have been interpreted as yet another example of incomprehensible modern art.

But their presence was entirely practical. Just a week after opening, the £46m Baltic Centre has lived up to its watery name by springing a leak in its roof.

A downpour on Saturday night forced visitors to tiptoe carefully around the exhibition, bright yellow "slippery floor" signs reminding them of the danger.

The Baltic, which benefited from a National Lottery grant of £33.4m, is one of the grandest of the regional arts centres that have spring up in recent years. But one diner in its glass restaurant, which commands a spectacular view of the city, was less impressed.

"You can't believe they've spent all that money and have a leaky roof," he said. "It's embarrassing. The problem is they build it up to something special and this is the sight that greets you when you come in."

The leak also angered local politicians. Peter Arnold, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Newcastle, said: "It's absolutely laughable that they can't get such a fundamental thing like this right.

"It's unacceptable that with all that funding they can't get quality workmanship. The centre is a big part of Tyneside Capital of Culture bid and this is what visitors are greeted with. What kind of impression does that create?"

The Baltic's first days have been beset by problems. Its opening on 13 July by Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, was marred by a fire alarm which obliged almost 400 artists, critics and politicians to leave the building via a steel staircase. Faulty fire alarms triggered two further evacuations in the first week.

But, despite its teething troubles, the Baltic is expected to be a huge draw for art lovers in the North with 350,000 visitors expected each year.

It is a rival to the Lowry Gallery in Salford, Greater Manchester, and the New Art Gallery in Walsall, West Midlands, which have both been judged commercial successes.

The Baltic was built in the shell of a 1940s grain silo, the former Baltic Flour Mill. It is on six main floors and has five giant art galleries, each the size of an aircraft hangar.

The first exhibition, B.Open, features work by 10 internationally renowned artists. No exhibitions that have previously been shown in London will be allowed in the centre.

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