The future of the Usher Gallery in Lincoln is back in the frame as Lincolnshire County Council said it was the “last chance saloon” for the city council to decide on the next course of action.
The county council is waiting for City of Lincoln Council to make a decision on whether it supports the county’s plans to diversify the use of the building it rents and manages, or take control over the Usher entirely as the city owns the building.
Lincolnshire County Council want to broaden the gallery’s use and appeal though income-generated activities such as lectures, art activities for children and ceremonial celebrations to make it self-financing. Weddings are already permitted in the building.
It is proposed to have the Usher open as an art gallery three days a week and the rest of the week to generate income through private hire.
The county council said the gallery only attracts around 2,000 visitors a year. It leases the building from the city council, who received it as a gift from the famous local jeweller and art collector James Usher.
City of Lincoln Council has until July 1 to decide on its plans, as the former collection management agreement it had ends in October 2021 (allowing for three months notice).
Originally, artefacts were planned to be moved to Nottingham by the city council, which the county council opposed.
Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, Cllr Martin Hill said: “We do need some more flexibility from the owners of the Usher gallery which is City of Lincoln Council to actually do something which really encourages people to come and visit, because currently the footfall is very poor there.”
He added: “I think it is the last chance saloon now. If the City of Lincoln Council want to look after their archives or the collection themselves, we are very happy for them to do that, but we really need a decision from them to see which way they are going to go.”
Newly elected Executive Member for Cultural Services, Cllr Lindsey Cawrey said: “We want to make sure that the predominant use is for arts and culture.”
However, she added that it needs to be self-financing through these events and activities.
Cllr Cawrey saw City of Lincoln Council as “partners” and is committed to the arts, culture and heritage offer.
Cllr Colin Davie, Executive Member for Economic Development, Environment and Planning said: “I’m very clear that the art and culture offer needs to adapt to the world after COVID and what our proposals are clearly about is ensuring we can have a future for the Usher gallery that is consistent with a wider cultural offer.”
He added: “It’s in the hands of the city council and I would urge them to consider that they need to contribute to the cultural offer of the city and work with the county council to deliver a wider offer that will be good for not just the city but for Lincolnshire.”
Simon Walters, Director of Communities and Environment at City of Lincoln Council, said: “We welcome the fact that the county council is keeping its plans for the Usher Art Gallery under review.
“We look forward to meeting with them, following this morning’s Executive decision, to discuss a resolution which will safeguard and protect the Usher Gallery and its heritage collections for years to come.”