Sheffield restores some civic pride with £46m gallery success

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The Independent Online

Sheffield, a city with a proven capacity for building dubious lottery-funded venues, restored considerable civic pride yesterday when it was disclosed that its new £46m art gallery had achieved half its annual visitor target in two months.

Sheffield, a city with a proven capacity for building dubious lottery-funded venues, restored considerable civic pride yesterday when it was disclosed that its new £46m art gallery had achieved half its annual visitor target in two months.

The Millennium Galleries' success in attracting 80,000 people since opening in April follows the strong performance of the Magna Centre ­ a celebration of the steel industry built in a redundant steel mill 10 miles away. It has been forced to recruit extra staff to deal with unexpectedly high demand.

Both establishments bear out what is now established thinking for big lottery projects: that they must fit with their communities and not be imposed ­ a criticism justifiably levelled at the £15m National Centre for Popular Music, which lost £1m in six months before closing last year.

Sheffield's fine tradition of art appreciation is rooted in its Mappin and Graves galleries, upgrades of which have recently been completed in a £400,000 project, and the collection of John Ruskin's Guild of St George, which sponsored workmen to produce craft objects in the late 19th century ­ now moved from the Ruskin Gallery into the new venue.

Architecturally, the Galleries and their adjoining Winter Gardens (a covered walkway of cafés, benches and entertainment space to be opened next year) also settle subtly into their environment, woven as they are into a £120m city centre redevelopment which will remove some dire, brutalistic 1970s buildings.

The city centre tie-in also means the gallery can bank on the local council to underwrite any losses in running costs and circumvent the cash-crisis which forced the closure of the popular music centre, a venue wholly dependent on over-optimistic visitor projections to pay off creditors.

The Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust, which runs the venue, believes its partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London ­ which has made the new venue its first northern outpost ­ is crucial to its success. Dr Gordon Rintoul, the trust's chief executive, said it makes the venue "the only place in the North [for the] kind of blockbuster exhibitions that are normally the preserve of the London galleries".

In February last year, the V&A announced a 10-year partnership which will bring four exhibitions to Yorkshire in the next five years.

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