Update on Beecroft Gallery and Jazz Centre

An update on the Jazz Centre and Beecroft Gallery was given at Full Council on Thursday 23 March.

The outside of the Beecroft Art Gallery on Victoria Avenue. The building has large blacked out windows with artwork on various panels.

Cllr Carole Mulroney, cabinet member for environment, culture, and tourism, said:

“Members of the Jazz Centre UK (JCUK) have recently been providing information regarding the council’s decision to ask them to relocate after many years of rent-free space as well as free utilities and calls on Council assistance, well beyond what it has been able to make available to other small organisations. After numerous letters, freedom of information requests, all focused on the situation from JCUK perspective, I wanted to reiterate our position to balance the narrative.

“JCUK grew out of an initial National Jazz Archive project which is still in operation in Loughton. The two organisations have some crossover but JCUK in Southend has developed a unique offer including displays and outreach work including education and participation. The Council has been supportive of the project and generously provided free accommodation in the Beecroft building for over 7 years under a service level agreement (SLA) recognising the value of the art form and potential footfall and engagement.  The relationship has been difficult at times with the gallery operating under council management and the shared space seeing live music and events that are not necessarily consistent with our main offer as a gallery.

“Different cultural behaviours between Council staff and jazz centre representatives have inevitably created some friction, but nevertheless we have continued despite these challenges and this has no bearing whatsoever to the council serving notice.

“When space at the Beecroft was initially offered, the intention was for the museum service to move to a new seafront location. The costs of that project spiralled considerably beyond original expectations and made the plans unviable. This decision whilst inevitable, has perpetuated the inability of the Council to present Southend’s heritage offer and art collection in a way which shows it to its best advantage and precludes expansion to cater for our new and exciting internationally renowned collections. It is this inability to manage our spaces in the most effective way for the benefit of the museum service and the public that has led to the current decision. We are currently blocking up large parts of the Central Museum and offsite storage and unable to tell our significant stories effectively. This can no longer go on.

“The council meets with JCUK regularly and for the last two years we have raised the issue of the increasing costs and financial challenges to local authorities. JCUK as a charity stated that they did not have funds to pay rent and a formula to contribute through commission on sales items was agreed. An initial proposal by the council was rejected and the Council lowered the commission amount and a review after a year was agreed. At the end of the first year, £84 was the total commission. During the period of support, the contribution of space and support based on external valuation is £193,000.

“Within the SLA conditions, there is a notice period of 12 months, and we are now in this period. Whilst a rent contribution has subsequently been offered, it goes no way to covering the costs to the council of the potential need to find museum space itself elsewhere or solve our core issue which is to show more of our collection and reduce our storage requirements.

“An alternative space in the Beecroft has been offered which is more suitable from a gallery and council perspective and more representative of the rent JCUK say they can now pay. The JCUK have advised that this space is not suitable for their needs.

“The museum service is now preparing an exciting future for the heritage collection and Beecroft Gallery. Bringing items out from storage to be able to tell residents and visitors about our fascinating heritage including our internationally relevant collections. Our project which itself will attract interest from national funding agencies will free many items from storage and reduce costs to the service and ultimately, the taxpayer.”

"Whilst the Jazz Centre UK is a very worthwhile project and brings some benefits, it is not Southend specific and the City Council needs to prioritise the City’s heritage all set against a backdrop of difficult financial decisions.

"For JCUK to thrive it needs an operating model to support itself, wherever it may move to, merchandising and revenue generation, memberships and evening performances and refreshments. This is just not possible in the Beecroft basement. And whilst the Council continues to support the JCUK in its search for an alternative site - of which several have been suggested - the Council and museum service are here to provide a service for all its citizens."

Published: 23rd March 2023

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