The Box: Everything you need to know

Excitement is growing for the grand opening of The Box, Plymouth's new multi-million-pound cultural and heritage attraction on Saturday, 16 May.

Expect stunning gallery displays, high-profile artists and wonderful art exhibitions, not to mention an unforgettable programme of exciting events and performances, The Box will hold thousands of fascinating artefacts and archives.

One of the opening exhibitions will be Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy and is one of the highlights of the Mayflower year.

Work on The Box began in March 2017. When finished, it will maintain the wonderful architecture of the Grade II Listed former Museum and Art Gallery and Central Library buildings, while also expanding its facilities through a stylish and contemporary extension - which includes a brand new main entrance on Tavistock Place.

The £42m redevelopment plan has also included repairing, refurbishing and transforming St Luke’s Church into the largest single GIS-compliant gallery in the South West. It will even feature a beautiful stained-glass window, created by world-famous artist Leonor Antunes. The buildings will be linked by an outdoor public space that houses food, drink and retail outlets.

The Box redevelopment scheme has been led by Plymouth City Council, in partnership with the University of Plymouth and the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

It has also been supported by the City Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, the Coastal Communities Fund, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the University of Plymouth, the Wolfson Foundation, the British Film Institute and Interreg.

When does The Box open?

The Box will officially open to the public on Saturday, 16 May, with a stunning programme that includes works by a number of major contemporary artists and a ground-breaking international exhibition titled ‘Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy’.

What is Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy?

'Mayflower 400: Legend And Legacy' is The Box's flagship event and will be the largest-ever commemorative Mayflower exhibition.

Co-curated with the Wampanoag Advisory Committee to Plymouth 400 in the USA, it will feature 300 items on loan from 100 museums, libraries and archives from around the world, including Native American items from The National Museum of the American Indian and the Harvard Peabody collection.

The centrepiece of the exhibition will be a 60 per cent replica of the vessel which sailed from Plymouth Boston, Massachusetts, in 1620 - together with the lifelines of the 102 passengers on board.

Pictures and stories of around 1,200 living Mayflower descendants will also be displayed on a wall of the gallery.

Powerful perspectives will be shared through images, ideas and objects including the first Bible to be printed in America, the last known record of the Mayflower, the oldest existing state document of New England, drawings, diaries, maps, plans and portraits, and the first piece of Wampanoag art commissioned by the city.

Visitors can learn more about the Wampanoag, and the display will even feature a newly-commissioned piece of pottery - a Wampanoag cooking pot - created by Ramona Peters (see below).

Who else is involved in Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy?

'Mayflower 400: Legend And Legacy' includes works by five international artists: Leonor Antunes, Eva Grubinger, Alexandre da Cunha, Christopher Baker and Antony Gormley.

Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes’ work responds to the renovated architecture of St Luke’s Church. A new floor work and a series of rope elements interconnect with hanging brass sculptures and glass coloured lights. These will be shown alongside the stained-glass window Antunes is creating for the building.

Austrian sculptor and installation artist Eva Grubinger focuses on everyday objects. Her ‘Fender’ is a giant ship’s fender made from vulcanised rubber and steel that dovetails with many of the maritime objects in The Box’s collections.

Brazilian artist Alexandre da Cunha’s uses existing and found items, inviting audiences to see them with a new perspective. His sculpture, ‘Figurehead II’, is made up of four stacked chamber drainage rings and stands over six metres tall.

Chicago-based artist Christopher Baker’s explores the relationship between society and technology. ‘Hello World! Or: How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love the Noise’ is a large audio-visual installation comprising 5,000 video diaries gathered from the internet.

Angel of the North artist, Sir Antony Gormley has been commissioned to create an imposing and thought-provoking sculpture called ‘LOOK II’. The statue is made from 22 individual iron blocks that have been cast as one single element to create a twice life-size figure which will be installed this year on the West Hoe Pier.

The Box’s opening programme is completed by Kehinde Wiley’s video installation ‘Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools)’, which is presented in partnership with The Arts Institute in the Levinsky Gallery at the University of Plymouth.

Making Antony Gormley's sculpture LOOK II, part of The Box

What's in The Box?

Visitors to The Box will get to explore seven large-scale, permanent galleries that each feature unique collections from the now-closed Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, as well as archive material from the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, the South West Film and Television Archive and the South West Image Bank. The designated areas are:

  • The Cottonian Reading Room - This will house The Box's Designated Collection, “The Cottonian – Plymouth’s Greatest Gift”, which was assembled by five men over two centuries and was left by William Cotton III, who died without issue, for the "use of the inhabitants of Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport, for their amusement and instruction".
  • Our Art - Showcases and celebrates the breadth and depth of the Art collections, including a display of works by artists from the South West including Rose Hilton, Stanhope-Forbes, Joshua Reynolds and Robert Lenkiewicz.
  • Active Archives - A space where the public can access all of The Box's local history books, maps and publications.
  • Media Lab - Browse the film and photographic archives and do everything from gaining an insight into our recent past to using a rich vein of material for serious academic research. You can even edit and create films on-site.
  • Memory Box - A chance for visitors to examine objects that might be familiar to them from their grandparents, their childhood or from their own knowledge of the past.
  • Photo Album and Community Space - A gallery for showing mass photography displays either from The Box's collection or from new projects that have been created with its partners and the community.
  • Mammoth - See a life-sized model of a woolly mammoth, which has been built in Minnesota and is being shipped over. Skeletons, stuffed birds, fossils, minerals and insects will all sit within and around the case.
  • 100 Journeys - Featuring the stories of Drake and the Spanish Armada, Sir Walter Raleigh, James Cook, Charles Darwin, Gertrude Benham, the Grand Tour, and Francis Chichester to name a few.
  • Port of Plymouth - Discover how Plymouth and Dartmoor began as settlements and subsequently became first a medieval and post medieval powerhouse, then a safe harbour due to the building of the Eddystone Lighthouse and Plymouth Breakwater, and finally how it went on to support the Navy and become a working port and dockyard.

There will also be a number of additional galleries hosting community exhibitions, local and nationally-touring exhibitions, artistic projects and commissions - including ‘Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy’.

Leonor Antunes. Photographer: Matthias Willi, Basel

Who's in charge of The Box?

Nicola Moyle is the head of Heritage, Art and Film at The Box. She has been involved since the start of this exciting project and was even involved in co-writing the application for Heritage Lottery Funding back in 2013.

She explained: "2020 gives us the opportunity to re-examine our past and to reflect on the English colonisation of America and its consequences. This is an important story and one we want to tell in as many different ways as we can, and as well as we possibly can.

"This [Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy?] is a significant and symbolic commission for The Box and the city, as well as an opportunity for us to showcase traditional Wampanoag craftsmanship.

"Working with the Wampanoag, whose ancestors met the passengers of the Mayflower 400 years ago, helps us understand the past and the present and explore the legacy of the Mayflower story."

What is the 'Box in the Sky'?

Sitting prominently atop the building, the “Box in the Sky” is a fireproof "family attic" on a grand scale which will contain public records, together with a number of artefacts which will eventually go on public display.

Further down, a refrigerated basement will house other sensitive items, including the film archive.

The Box will also feature a shop, a café, learning and orientation spaces, as well as Levinsky Gallery across the road at the University of Plymouth campus.

How much will it cost to visit The Box?

The 'Mayflower 400: Legend And Legacy' exhibition will be free to Plymouth residents and under-18s, while tickets for non-residents will be just £5 per person.

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