£10m improvement works at the Barber Institute to begin this autumn

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£10m improvement works at the Barber Institute to begin this autumn
Lady Barber Gallery ©Simon Hadley.

BIRMINGHAM.- The first phase of a £10 million essential building improvement programme begins at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham this autumn with the refurbishment of its exhibition gallery.

The refit of the Lady Barber Gallery will include the installation of new walls, floors, glass doors and state-of-the-art lighting. The air-handling system will also be completely replaced.

The work is the first instalment of a two-part scheme funded entirely by the University of Birmingham, which owns the Barber’s building.

The project has been prompted by the need to replace old air-handling and heating systems and install new building hardware. The refurbishment will provide an enhanced experience that befits a national arts institution and meets the expectations of 21st-century visitors.

Phase One

The Lady Barber Gallery, along with the four principal collection galleries, print bays and coin gallery, will close on 2 October 2023 and remain shut for five months. Due to the scale of the work being undertaken, all galleries will remain closed until the works are complete.

The Barber’s red collection gallery – currently the venue for the critically acclaimed temporary exhibition, Mastering the Market: Dutch and Flemish Paintings from Woburn Abbey – will close to the public earlier, on Sunday 24 September, the planned end-date of the show.

The Barber’s fine art collection – owned by the Henry Barber Trust – will be safely stored during the refurbishment, while agreed loans of masterpieces from the collection to exhibitions across the UK and Europe will be honoured.

The remainder of the building’s public spaces – including the reception and shop, fine art library, lecture theatre, teaching spaces, art history department and offices – will stay open from Monday to Friday, but close at weekends. The Barber Concert Hall will also remain closed.

The galleries are due to reopen in March 2024 with a twelve-month programme that features major temporary loan exhibitions and some changes to collection displays.

Phase Two

The Barber Institute’s building will close to the public for seven months in February 2025, reopening in late autumn 2025.

The Concert Hall, with its unique Art Deco auditorium, located at the heart of the Grade-1 listed building, will be retro-fitted with a new fresh-air circulation system. This will enable the prestigious Barber Concert series, funded by the Henry Barber Trust and currently based in the University's Elgar Concert Hall, to return to the Barber.

A new, public, level-access entrance will also be created via the terrace at the north side of the building alongside a new ground-floor accessible lavatory and baby-changing facility.

The Director of the Barber Institute, Professor Jennifer Powell, said that, while it was regrettable that the Barber’s galleries would be closed for several months, the essential repairs would enable more visitors to enjoy the collections, exhibitions, and music programmes in the future.

Professor Powell said: “We are delighted that, with the University’s funding support, we can upgrade our exhibition gallery space and building controls and, crucially, welcome more visitors with mobility aids, prams or buggies, and other additional access needs, directly into the building’s reception space. This building repair work will also enable us to stage live music in the concert hall again, bringing art and music back together at the core of our building, which was key to the vision of our founder, Lady Barber.”

The University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Adam Tickell, said: “The Barber Institute is the jewel in the University’s cultural crown. We are very proud to have this world-class collection – housed in the University’s only Grade-1 listed building – on campus. This refurbishment programme demonstrates our commitment to the Barber as a crucial centre of research and learning in the arts, as well as a public gallery that is much loved by art- and music-lovers in Birmingham, the UK and around the world. Its repaired and restored facilities will ensure the Barber’s pre-eminence as a university arts centre for years to come.”

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