Blackpool plans Theatre Museum on super-casino site

Blackpool’s abandoned super-casino site and Winter Gardens are in the running to host the relocated Covent Garden Theatre Museum, after the V&A agreed to pursue proposals for a National Museum for the Performing Arts in the seaside town.

The resort first announced its desire to become the museum’s new home a year ago – shortly before the London site shut – when parent organisation, the Victoria and Albert Museum, decided it could no longer afford to run the building.

Blackpool Council has confirmed its bid will proceed to the “next stage” after the Department for Culture, Media and Sport agreed to a GBP 50,000 grant to prepare a full feasibility study of the plans. The V&A has given a “definite, very firm handshake” to the principle of the museum drawing on its theatre collection.

The two main schemes under consideration are a redevelopment of the Winter Gardens, incorporating the Opera House, or a brand new “iconic” building with its own purpose-built performance space. The latter would be on the town centre site which had been earmarked to host Blackpool’s super-casino before proposals were rejected.

Blackpool council cabinet member for culture Tony Williams – himself a former musician – told The Stage the museum would host live performances and a collection drawing on “the whole spectrum of culture” from variety to ballet.

He added: “This is an extremely exciting opportunity and one which Blackpool really needs and deserves and would nurture. I think we’ve proved that funding for the project is sustainable and the feasibility report will show that. I don’t think money is a stumbling block on this.

“It would be a place of education as well as entertainment and would have interaction and participation at the heart of it – and there would be more than one venue within it. We’ve had a definite, very firm handshake with the V&A that they want to work this through with us. The intent that it should happen is there from everyone.”

The feasibility study will report back to the council and the V&A board next summer. The new museum would draw on the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Collections, as well as entertainment memorabilia already available within Blackpool. The organisation would also look to form links with national and international partners.

Funding is being sought from a number of sources and the council is hopeful the government’s Blackpool Task Force, which is looking into the regeneration of the town after its failed casino bid, will recommend that the project be used as a flagship scheme for the region. Initial results are expected in December and any endorsement would help greatly in terms of generating public funds.

V&A director Mark Jones said: “The V&A is committed to working with Blackpool on exploring this possibility and we await the results of the feasibility study with interest.” The Blackpool project would be run in addition to the permanent gallery which is planned to open at the V&A’s South Kensington base in 2009.

A spokesman for the Guardians of the Theatre Museum, the campaign group which fought against the closure of the museum in Covent Garden, said it welcomed any provision for theatre memorabilia within the UK, but stressed the group’s priority “is still to ensure that the UK’s centre of theatre – the West End – has a proper place to exhibit its history”.