Plans for a controversial sculpture centre in Bury Library are a “no-brainer” because of the economic benefits it will bring the town, according to a culture chief.
Tony Trehy, who works for Bury Council as arts and museums manager, says the development, which is set to open in May, will make Bury the envy of the artistic world, and attract visitors from around the globe.
The installation of the sculpture centre will see the ground floor layout of the building in Manchester Road altered, with some of the library space removed to make way for the centre, which has sparked criticism from councillors and library-users.
The sculpture centre requires a one-off capital investment of £75,000 from the council to cover the cost of adaptations to the building, and has received a £27,000 grant from Arts Council England.
However Mr Trehy, who has worked in Bury for the past 20 years, says the plans will not only deliver world-renowned art to the borough, but boost the economy.
He said: “We are not replacing the library, and it is not one or the other.
“How the library works is being changed by the libraries review, and the result was that there was more space in the building, and this makes the most economic sense.
“I would be against closing libraries if we were, but we are not.
“Bury has got a lot to be proud of, because we are one of the European experts in the way we are working.”
Mr Trehy sees art as a way of supporting the local economy, as well as having its own intrinsic creative value.
He explained that foreign countries would pay for the work of their artists to be exhibited overseas, and that there had already been interest from countries such as Israel, Finland and Canada.
He said: “We are in the early stages but we have got a concept for how it is going to work and pay for itself and bring visitors to Bury.
“It is a bit of a no-brainer really, in terms of what it has to offer. In a time of cuts and pressures in funding, we can provide a visitor centre and experience which is externally funded.
“This will give Bury people the chance to see the work of some of the great artists of the world.”
Mr Trehy was also the brains behind the successful International Touring Exhibition Model, which saw pieces of artwork usually based in Bury rented to China, to bring Bury Art Museum’s assets to a wider audience.
He says the town is now recognised around the world as being at the forefront of this new model, and as innovators in making assets, which would otherwise not bring in any money, pay for themselves, with Bury receiving about £15,000 from the overseas exhibition.
The 54-year-old said: “It is a really exciting possibility that people will see this stuff and at the same time it will generate a big income in the borough. Because of the success of the China project, it shows we are not making it up. We know it will work, and we know it will make a big impact.”
The schedule of exhibitions in the first year of the sculpture centre is already in place, and Mr Trehy says the line-up will whet the appetite of art-lovers from around the globe.
The opening exhibition in May will feature a Text festival, which investigates the relationship between language in poetry and art.
In October. the second exhibition will feature a collection European and Chinese art, and late next year the third exhibition will have a knitting theme.
Looking to the long term, Mr Trehy said the plans will snowball and create more interest from overseas.
He said: “In two or three years we will have three international conf-erences a year. If you think about the number of hotel rooms people will book out and the impact on restaurants and shops, that is a big impact on the local economy.”
Mr Trehy says he does not expect the sculpture centre to receive widespread support and positive reviews, but thinks it will further cement Bury’s already strong reputation for supporting the arts.
He said: “Some of the work will be challenging, and some of it will be fun, and some of it will be irrelevant, but that is what art is for.
“As you would expect, I am sure some people will hate it, but also some people will love it.
“People don’t go to an art gallery to like everything; they go to think and be challenged. The one thing you don’t want to be at an art gallery is bored, and you certainly won’t be bored here.”