Excitement is growing for The Box - and now Plymouth's new multi-million-pound cultural and heritage attraction has an official grand opening date.
Having postponed its original May 2020 opening due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Box will now open its doors on the weekend of Friday to Sunday, 25-27 September, with a special preview weekend for Plymouth residents who took part in a ballot earlier this year. It will then be open to the public from Tuesday, 29 September. Opening hours will be 10am-5pm Tuesday to Sunday.
Its flagship opening exhibition will be Mayflower 400: Legend And Legacy, the national commemorative exhibition for the Mayflower 400 anniversary and the largest loans exhibition ever staged by the city of Plymouth.
This major exhibition has been co-curated with the Wampanoag Advisory Committee to Plymouth 400 in the USA. Tribal scholars and educators have worked in partnership with curators at The Box to present a Native American view of English colonisation. Providing modern and historical material to demonstrate their lives before and after the Mayflower, their insights will challenge your perceptions and perhaps even change your opinions.
Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy acknowledges conflict with Native America and the impact of colonisation on the indigenous population using objects, images and ideas to explore early English attempts to colonise America. It discusses the context of the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620, detailing the lives of the passengers and those of the Wampanoag, as well as considering the cultural, demographic and personal legacies of the story from both sides of the Atlantic.
Forget everything you thought you knew about the Mayflower as The Box debunks some of the myths, exploring how one ship connects four nations over 400 years. It is an epic journey and story of survival and imagination told through objects, images and ideas from both sides of the Atlantic.
This exhibition features an exceptional and rare selection of objects such as books, engravings and artefacts, including the first Bible to be printed in America, the last known record of the Mayflower which describes the ship as being 'in ruinis' and values it at £128 8s 6d, and the first Wampanoag art commissioned by the city.
The 300 items, on loan from 100 museums, libraries and archives from around the world, include Native American items from The National Museum of the American Indian and the Harvard Peabody collection, as well as the Second Peirce Patent from Pilgrim Hall Museum – the oldest existing state document of New England that gave the Mayflower colonists English permission to settle in America.
Signed in 1621, this document will be coming to Plymouth for the first time in 400 years. Central to the exhibition will be a new Wampanoag object, created specifically for this show by the artist Nosapocket/Ramona Peters.
Curator at The Box, Jo Loosemore, places this new story of the Mayflower within a wider context, beginning the exhibition in the 1570s with England’s first attempts to create colonies in America and explores the impact of that cultural collision over 400 years.
Seventeenth-century drawings and diaries record the experiences of the earliest English colonists in America, maps and plans document the places where the Pilgrims lived in Holland, and painted portraits present the religious personalities who sent them there.
A King James Bible, printed in 1611 and on loan from Exeter Cathedral Library, makes the religion real, while John Alden’s Geneva Bible, on loan from Dartmouth College, makes it personal.
Children’s toys from the 17th century remind us of the passengers, which included 19 families, four unaccompanied children and two dogs – all 102 of whom are equally important and integral to the story.
The Box is the largest multi-disciplinary arts and heritage space to open in the UK in 2020. As a key element of Plymouth's 'Resurgam' programme, its launch now symbolises the city's recovery and sets the direction for positive change in the local economy and life of the city as it moves through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Originally three separate buildings, The Box's ground-breaking design has completely transformed, extended and combined Plymouth's former City Museum and Art Gallery, Central Library building and St Luke's Church to create a cutting-edge, interactive cultural centre with 13 new galleries and exhibition spaces, a striking elevated archive, learning and research facilities and a brand new public square.
In preparation for opening, The Box has put a number of safety and social distancing measures in place to help visitors feel as comfortable as possible. These include:
In line with Government guidance, the wearing of face coverings will be encouraged for all visitors over 11 years and mandatory in the retail area.
Watch our Virtual Voyage of Plymouth, including a sneak peek of The Box, below.
Tudor Evans OBE, Leader of Plymouth City Council, said: "This is such an exciting moment for the city and it's fantastic to finally be able to announce these dates.
"The Box is a vital part of our recovery programme and it feels like it's been a long time coming now. Staff have worked so hard over the last few months to maintain momentum and keep the public engaged with the project. They’ve also put in a huge effort to respond to the current Government guidelines to ensure that everyone who visits will have a safe and enjoyable experience.
"I hope everyone is as proud and excited as I am and can't wait for the doors to open. In our post-lockdown world, The Box is going to be a place where people can reconnect with each other, Plymouth's history and its future."
Paul Brookes, Interim CEO, added: "The main focus for our launch preparations is the safety of our visitors and staff and the quality of the access and experience we'll provide.
"We're thrilled that we've been able to move the dates of our exhibition programme without making any fundamental changes to our vision, and continue to fit out our permanent galleries without making too many compromises.
"With a reduced visitor capacity on-site, those who feel able to come in during our first few weeks will get the chance to enjoy an amazing, almost private-view level experience. We can't wait to see what people think."
As well as 'Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy', The Box will feature two more major exhibitions:
Making It: An international contemporary art exhibition featuring newly-commissioned works by Antony Gormley, Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes and Brazilian artist Alexandre da Cunha.
Kehinde Wiley: Ship of Fools: Curated in partnership with The Arts Institute at the University of Plymouth and Royal Museums Greenwich, and will present a three-channel film work by American artist Kehinde Wiley in The Levinsky Gallery.
Nine permanent galleries will also showcase The Box's incredible collections and will include 14 monumental ships' figureheads, thousands of natural history specimens, a full-sized woolly mammoth replica, paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture and ceramics from the city's art collections, objects, film and photography from its media collections and documents, maps and plans from its archives.
Ian Bowyer, Conservative Councillor, said: "Everything at The Box is really starting to come together and it's looking wonderful – there's no doubt in my mind that everyone who visits is going to be really impressed.
"The combination of the newly-developed permanent galleries, the exciting temporary exhibitions plus the catering, retail and research facilities mean Plymouth has a top-class cultural attraction we can all be extremely proud of. It's going to an emotional day for everyone who's been involved when The Box finally gets to open in September."
Admission will be free to all exhibitions and galleries apart from the 'Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy' exhibition. This will be free for Plymouth residents and under-18s, with a small £5 charge for non-Plymouth residents who are over 18.
The Box Kitchen & Bar and The Little Box café will be serving a range of tasty meals and snacks (advance booking recommended). A new shop will also be open and will offer 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.
Leonor Antunes. Photographer: Matthias Willi, Basel
A bookable on-site schools service covering a wide range of curriculum topics, and bookable appointments for researchers will also be available from 29 September.
Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West, Arts Council England, said: "The eagerly-awaited opening of The Box is fantastic news for Plymouth, giving people the chance to enjoy a remarkable range of cultural experiences whilst also helping to kick-start the local economy by attracting more visitors to Britain's Ocean City.
"With its ambitious contemporary art programme featuring world-class artists, The Box will strengthen Plymouth's growing reputation as a cultural capital - both nationally and internationally - and will secure a tangible legacy to be enjoyed by generations to come.
"We are extremely pleased to make a significant investment in The Box through our Capital programme, National Portfolio funding and other strategic funds, with huge thanks to Government and the National Lottery."
The final stop before the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic, Britain's Ocean City is one of England's fastest growing destinations, home to the famous Mayflower Steps.
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