The Box: Everything you need to know

The Box is Plymouth's new multi-million-pound cultural and heritage attraction.

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

One of the opening exhibitions is 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 did The Box open?

The Box officially opened to the public on Tuesday 29 September, 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’.

Which exhibitions can I see at The Box?

The Box opened with three major exhibitions.

Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy: The largest commemorative Mayflower exhibition in history, this will include more than 300 objects from museum, library and archive collections from across the UK, USA and Netherlands.

The exhibition has been created in partnership with the Wampanoag Advisory Committee to Plymouth 400 in Massachusetts and uses objects, images and ideas to:

  • Explore early English attempts to colonise America.
  • Acknowledge conflict with Native America and the impact of colonisation on the indigenous population.
  • Explore the context of the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620.
  • Detail the lives of the passengers and their legacies.

Making It: An international contemporary art exhibition featuring newly commissioned works by Antony Gormley (public art/sculpture), Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes (fused glass and installation), Brazilian artist Alexandre da Cunha (sculpture and textiles) and Christopher Baker (digital installation). The exhibition contracts the labour intensive process of making with the ’15 minutes of fame’ and wannabe culture of our age of social media.

Kehinde Wiley: Ship of Fools: Curated in partnership with The Arts Institute at the University of Plymouth and Royal Museums Greenwich, this will present a three-channel film work by American artist Kehinde Wiley in The Levinsky Gallery. The film is a portrait of a group of black men at sea, struggling to reach the land – a metaphor for historical and contemporary migration.

What is Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy?

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

Co-curated with the Wampanoag Advisory Committee to Plymouth 400 in the USA, it features 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 is 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 are also displayed on a wall of the gallery.

Powerful perspectives are 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 even features a newly-commissioned piece of pottery - a Wampanoag cooking pot - created by Ramona Peters (see below).

Who else is involved in the opening programme at The Box Plymouth?

The opening programme 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?

Nine permanent galleries showcase The Box’s incredible collections and include:

  • 14 monumental ships’ figureheads.
  • Thousands of natural history specimens.
  • A full-sized woolly mammoth replica.
  • Important archaeological finds from the 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.
  • Objects, film and photography from the city’s media collections.
  • Documents, maps and plans from the city’s archives.

The Box Kitchen & Bar is serving a range of tasty meals and snacks made with locally-sourced produce and a figureheads-inspired cocktail menu.

A new shop is open and also offers a ‘click and collect’ service for those who want to maximise their time in the galleries and exhibitions or browse online before or after their visit.

A bookable onsite schools service covering a wide range of curriculum topics, and bookable appointments for researchers is also available.

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

What are the opening hours at The Box?

The Box’s opening hours are 10am-5pm Tuesday to Sunday and Bank Holidays.

The Box Kitchen & Bar’s opening hours are 9am-5pm Tuesday to Sunday and Bank Holidays.

How much does it cost to visit The Box?

Admission to The Box is free to Plymouth residents and all under-18s.

There is a £5 ticket fee for non-Plymouth residents aged 18+ for the ‘Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy’ exhibition.

Due to current safety and social distancing guidelines, all visits to The Box from 29 September must be pre-booked.

Tickets can be booked via the website here and will go on general release from 10 September.

Health and safety measures at The Box

In preparation for opening, The Box put a number of safety and social distancing measures in place to help visitors feel as comfortable as possible. These include:

  • Reduced capacity and clearly marked one-way systems in key areas of circulation.
  • Increased invigilation by staff and volunteers.
  • Hand-sanitising facilities and enhanced cleaning.
  • A temporary reduction in on site events alongside an enhanced digital offer.

In line with government guidance, the wearing of face coverings is mandatory for all visitors aged 11+.

How is The Box funded?

Led by Plymouth City Council, The Box is a partnership with the University of Plymouth and the National Museum of the Royal Navy. The major project funders are Plymouth City Council, National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England.

Additional funding support has been provided by the Coastal Communities Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation, Wolfson Foundation, Interreg, British Film Institute and the University of Plymouth.

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