Opening The Box

One of the most transformational projects in Plymouth’s modern cultural history has finally opened its doors to the public today, following a three-year, multi-million pound development.

The Box, the largest multi-disciplinary arts and heritage space to open in the country this year, brings together the former Museum and Art Gallery, Central Library and St Luke’s Church buildings, re-shaping the landscape of the city’s ‘cultural quarter’.

Located between the University – a key member of the partnership leading the project – and Plymouth College of Art, The Box has 13 galleries and exhibition spaces, new learning and research facilities (including a dedicated room for the University), a restaurant and shop, and has created a brand new public piazza.

Nine of the galleries are permanent, and will showcase The Box’s collections, including: thousands of natural history specimens (and a full-sized woolly mammoth replica); 14 monumental ships’ figureheads; important archaeological finds from Bronze Age Dartmoor; objects from around the world including Ancient Egypt, Asia, Africa and Oceania; paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture and ceramics from the city’s art collections; and objects, film and photography from the city’s media collections.

“What is distinctive about The Box is the spirit of connection,”

says Professor Dafydd Moore, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, and the University’s representative on the Shadow Board of The Box. 

“It is about moving people, mentally and physically, to other places, from the University and St Luke’s Church, to Smeaton’s Tower and the Elizabethan House. It is about allowing Plymouthians to reconnect with the history of their city as a whole, and allowing visitors to make sense of the rich historical landscape they are visiting when they spend time in Plymouth.”

St Luke's Church and The Box (image credit: Wayne Perry)

Three major exhibitions headline the opening of The Box, including Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy. The largest commemorative Mayflower exhibition in history, it will include more than 300 objects from museum, library and archive collections from across the UK, USA and the Netherlands. 

The University’s Dr Kathryn Gray, Associate Professor in Early American Literature, has been a key consultant on the project, which has been created in partnership with the Wampanoag Advisory Committee to Plymouth 400, in Massachusetts. It explores a range of powerful themes including: early English attempts to colonise America; acknowledging the conflict with Native America and the impact of colonisation on the indigenous population; and understanding the context of the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620, and some of the lives of the passengers and their legacies. 

A second marquee exhibition demonstrates how The Box fundamentally changes the programming of major arts and cultural events in the city. Kehinde Wiley: Ship of Fools – showcasing the work of one of the most famous portrait painters in the world – is curated by The Box, but hosted in The Levinsky Gallery on campus. It is an example of a closer and more cohesive approach to programming, one that takes advantage of all of the facilities offered by the partner organisations.

You are invited to Kehinde Wiley: Ship of Fools

29 September–24 January at The Levinsky Gallery, University of Plymouth.

Kehinde Wiley is a world-renowned Nigerian-American artist whose naturalistic portraits challenge the conventional view of power, taste and privilege by portraying black people of disparate origins and social status as celebrated figures. His style is deliberately decorative and sitters include President Obama, Kanye West and fellow artists Wangechi Mutu and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

Curated by The Box in partnership with The Arts Institute and Royal Museums Greenwich.

Free to access, find out more and book your place

“The Box represents a hugely important milestone in the development of Plymouth’s cultural quarter,”

adds Dafydd. 

“It has very exciting implications for the University and enables us to reconceive the campus and how people move around it. We are now part of a world-leading venue, and that is going to bring many more people onto the campus.”

The opening of The Box also extends the University campus eastwards thanks to its housing of The Foulston Room, a dedicated space for the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business, designed to enable immersive learning and close access to the facilities. This University-owned room is set to play an important role for degrees such as MA Heritage and MA Archival Practice, the latter of which is jointly delivered with The Box and is in its third year.

“The relationship with The Box is crucial for our teaching and research,”

says Professor Annika Bautz, Head of the School of Humanities and Performing Arts. 

“Having our students involved in a variety of projects, and working alongside experts at The Box, adds an experiential element to our programmes that students value immensely, ensuring they are well-equipped for entering the world of work once they graduate. There is rich potential here: art history students co-curating exhibitions; heritage students studying how collections are displayed and interpreted for contemporary audiences; English and history students doing hands-on research in the archives.”

The project has been led by Plymouth City Council, in partnership with the University and the National Museum of the Royal Navy. It’s been funded from a variety of sources including the Council, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England, by the Coastal Communities Fund, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the British Film Institute, and the University.

“The Box is a tremendous addition to the cultural life of Plymouth,” 

adds Professor David Finkelstein, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business. 

“It will prove a galvanising influence on the cultural regeneration of the city and the region. It will be a beacon, serving to preserve and promote its rich cultural heritage and history. There are so many stories waiting to be told within its spaces. I am proud of our Faculty’s association with The Box, and we look forward to joining it in its mission to uncover and bring to light those stories, and to create a powerful cultural corridor between our respective spaces that enhances Plymouth’s standing and reputation.” 

For more information, visit the website at www.theboxplymouth.com.