Designs for the £500,000 refurbishment of Cheltenham’s The Wilson Museum and Art Gallery have been revealed this April 2022.
The Wilson, which is run by The Cheltenham Trust, is set to have a brand-new arts café on the ground floor; a new community gallery on the mezzanine floor; and artists’ studios on the third floor, with the aim of turning the museum into a ‘significant visitor destination’ for the town and the heart of Cheltenham’s new cultural hub.
The ground floor arts café will serve barista coffee and have three flexible, multi-use spaces, each with a different feel, as well as two main entrances on either side – one leading to the new Minster Exchange and the existing main entrance on Clarence Street.
Décor for the café is inspired by The Wilson’s collection, with wallpaper recreating abstract pieces of art and fabrics from the Arts and Crafts movement. New artworks are also being commissioned for the space, with local artist Katy Welsh creating screen printed banners depicting items of furniture from the museum’s Arts and Crafts collection, too.
Funding for the project comes from a £250,000 bequest from the Sir Charles Irving Trust in 2020, which was matched by Cheltenham Borough Council in autumn 2021 – with the award-winning Bath-based commercial design and build company, Interaction, creating the designs and work on the site due to begin in May 2022.
The new gallery space, which will allow local artists to showcase their work, as well as host cultural events and groups, is being named the Sir Charles Irving Community Art Gallery, to create ‘a lasting legacy’ for the for much-loved former MP and three-time mayor of Cheltenham.
The new artists’ studios will operate on a bursary basis, giving local creatives the opportunity to co-create exhibitions and workshops in the community gallery, too.
Chair of the board of trustees of The Cheltenham Trust, Louis Eperjesi, said: ‘We are delighted to announce this exciting redesign of The Wilson. After months of hard work to create the right designs, we are pleased to unveil these for everyone to see this new dynamic cultural hub for the whole community, and visitors to Cheltenham.
‘The Wilson will offer café culture complemented by a comprehensive cultural programme featuring talks, workshops, creative events, local and national exhibitions and shows, showcasing the very best of Cheltenham’s cultural community and history.’
Chief executive of Cheltenham Borough Council, Gareth Edmundson, added: ‘This is great news for Cheltenham and will also complement the opening of the transformational Minster Exchange and Minster Gardens project in the heart of our town centre.
‘The new space will help broaden the appeal of arts and culture to a wider audience and further strengthen that vital community connection. We hope that, in the near future, it will enable a greater selection of the council’s art collections to be displayed through a wider programming of exhibitions.
‘We’ve seen a number of new openings in the high street over the last few months and The Wilson will add much more to Cheltenham’s high street offer.’
Tony Hilder, representing The Sir Charles Irving Trust, also said: ‘The opening of the new Sir Charles Irving Community Art Gallery will bring a new dimension and community focus to the venue and Cheltenham, as well as creating a legacy to Sir Charles Irving that will celebrate and showcase the talent of his hometown.’
The Wilson has been closed since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and is finally due to reopen in summer 2022, following the refurbishment.