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The Public

West Brom’s multimedia art gallery The Public has had plenty of stick – much of it justified - but Stirrer editor Adrian Goldberg enjoyed a fine family day out at the centre yesterday. Maybe it’s time to finally celebrate an addition to the local cultural scene.

It’s half-term, and you’ve got four young kids to occupy – not to mention two accompanying adults who want their offspring entertained as cheaply as possible.

So where can you can get two or three hours of free – and I mean free – entertainment in the West Midlands?

This half term, you could do a lot worse than head to The Public.

They’ve sussed that it actually doesn’t take much – just a stack of Lego, and your kids’ imaginations.

This week, they’ve been running Robot Making workshops with artist James Johnson-Perkins on hand to help kids (and their parents) indulge in the most fantastical creations.

It helps that some of the best exhibits from previous days have been set aside, so that you can compare, contrast, and draw inspiration from what others have achieved. Just have a look, and go create.

There, that’s a happy 90 minutes whiled away.

We could have stayed for lunch at the Couture coffee bar, too – just £3.95 for an eat-in meal deal – but opted for a change of scenery at the nearby Great Western Café on the High Street.

This is no nonsense dining, but feeding the the two adults and three kids in our mini-group cost just £12. Bostin.

Then back to The Public for Josh Nimoy’s Interactive Drawing exhibition on the third floor.

The kids loved how their hand movements on a small touchpad could create huge swirls of colour on one of three big screens, and this was another big hit.

Not everything at The Public was quite as successful, mind; the long walk to the Ground Floor via the ramp (purpose built for an interactive display which never quite materialised) has a few exhibits that don’t quite hit the mark, and must give those leaving the building a sense of anti-climax.

There’s still no sign of the workspace pods on the top floor being occupied either – while other exhibits on the third floor, notably the Warley Model Railway display feel out of place in an arts centre.

Yet along the way, there are still some delightful surprises – John Akomfrah’s art film Mnemosyne was too challenging for a family visit with small kids (it has shots of a foaming Enoch Powell speech and race riots), but will prompt a swift return.

The bottom line is that The Public still isn’t functioning at 100% capacity, and will probably never meet all of the high aims originally set for it by the Arts Council – but none of this should blind us to what is being achieved.

For too long, one of the major towns in the Black Country has had to function without a decent gallery, or even a place to host alternative films or exhibitions – not to mention half term community events. Now that it's in place, the buzzy feel of the downstairs space suggests that it is fulfilling a long unmet need.

Yes, it’s still very much a work in progress – but progress has definitely been made.



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