Belfast Telegraph

Derry protesters in human chain to stop Turner Exhibition building closure

By Eamonn Macdermott

More than 400 arts fans have formed a human chain in atrocious weather conditions around the Turner Exhibition building to protest against plans to replace it with IT offices.

The arts fans said that Londonderry's legacy as the UK's first City of Culture is in danger of being tainted by accusations that it was merely a 'pop up' event with no genuine commitment to the arts.

The Turner Prize exhibition has attracted tens of thousands of visitors to 'Building 80-81' – a former military accommodation unit in Ebrington – since it opened in October.

Hosting the art competition outside England for the first time was a major coup for the organisers of the City of Culture celebrations, attracting worldwide attention.

Locals also flocked to see the works, which controversially included a life-size cartoonish representation of a man urinating in a bucket and another with nothing on show, and where visitors are paid to talk about economics.

But as the exhibition of the artists' work finally ended yesterday, campaigners were determined that the former barracks would have an artistic legacy.

At a meeting held before the protest at the red brick building, speaker after speaker castigated the decision, describing as ridiculous the plans to transform the gallery, which had been refurbished at a cost of £2.5m, into a 'digital hub'.

The Save Ebrington Campaign has demanded assurances from the Office of the First and deputy First Minister.

They want assurances that no work would be done on the gallery space without a full public consultation.

Eamonn McCann, who chaired the meeting, said: "We do not want to be presented with a fait accomplit.

"And so before the builders move in to destroy the gallery, we demand that a full consultation with the community is held.

"We are speaking with one voice and demand that this be saved as a gallery for the city."

Mr McCann said that if the gallery was replaced, it would raise questions over the legacy of the City of Culture.

After the meeting, protesters then formed a human chain that ran from one end of the Ebrington Gallery to the other.

They vowed to continue their fight until the space was retained as a gallery.

Kenny McAdams, the chairman of Derry Trade Union Council, said: "The city is in danger of becoming the pop up city.

"We had the Venue built at the cost of £4m and it is going.

"Now we have this gallery and it is going."

Richard Gordon of the Gordon Gallery said that the Turner Prize had been "a tremendous success attracting many thousands of cultural tourists".

He described the gallery as "the most sophisticated art space in Ireland outside of Dublin".

"This gallery can accommodate artwork from any major gallery/museum and private collections from around the world," he said.

"It is important that politicians, both local and national, and the powers that be realise the importance of the groundswell of public opinion that these buildings be retained as a recognised gallery space."

Mr Gordon also said the economic argument for the office space did not stand up.

"If we lose this space, it is the end of the visual arts in this city," he warned.

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