The Box to become ‘major attraction’ for tourists with 2022 events line-up

Plymouth’s £47m cultural center The Box is aiming to attract 200,000 visitors in the next year and establish itself as a major visitor attraction. The Box pulled in 125,000 visitors during 2021 but has not had a full year of operation without a Covid-related shut down since it was completed in early 2020.

But the February half term week was very busy with 20,000 visitors and now new chief executive Victoria Pomery is looking at attracting 10 times that number during 2022/23, its first financial year without restrictions. Although The Box receives public funding, it still has to make money from retail and other operations and Ms Pomery is keen it generates income to help support 75 full-time-equivalent jobs, and a team of about 160 volunteers.

But Ms Pomery, formerly head of the Turner Contemporary in Margate, is also determined The Box will generate visitors to Britain’s Ocean City and help its businesses and the education and mental wellbeing of its populace. “In our next financial year we want 200,000 visitors,” she said. “We have not yet had a full year of opening, we were closed until May 17 last year.

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“In Margate we had a spike in visitors (after the initial opening), then it plateaued and then built up again. We haven’t had a major spike here in Plymouth, but then we had to close almost straight after opening. So we hope it will gradually go up.” She said the British Arts Show 7, in 2011, was “a real catalyst” for the city’s focus on visual arts and the arrival of British Arts Show 9, between October and December this year, is also a key opportunity for the city, saying : “That is very exciting, it’s about new ideas.”

And she added: “I’m ambitious that we drive visitors to the city, working with partners such as Destination Plymouth, and reinforce the message that Plymouth is a city to visit and a place to come to for weekends, particularly out of season. There are many great places to visit in Plymouth. But we have to change perceptions. For instance, London is not that far away. Plymouth is a fantastic city with one of the best waterfronts in the world. It has a lot of history, is very vibrant, has an amazing heritage and very exciting cultural activities.”

The Box earns a crust from its catering and retail offer but relies on a “high-level” of public investment, although Ms Pomery stressed that, in turn, it has a knock on effect for the city economy and the wellbeing of its citizens. “We need creative thinkers, and that goes for people going into business, for example, and to ensure Britain develops, going forward,” she said.



PlymouthLive Business Editor William Telford interviews Victoria Pomery at The Box Kitchen and Bar
PlymouthLive Business Editor William Telford interviews Victoria Pomery at The Box Kitchen and Bar

The Box has assets in terms of its collections and image licensing, which can generate some income. It also relies on the generosity of donors and sponsors, and trusts and foundations. “We are moving from capital fundraising to revenue, that is very different,” said Ms Pomery. “I would be delighted to hear from anyone in the city who would like to support us in any way they can.”

She sees her role as putting culture at the heart of the city’s transformation and said: “I believe in the power of the arts to make social and economic change. “The value of the Box is not only about being economically viable,” she said. “But, yes, we want to make money.”

She said that it will become even more important as public sector investment in the arts is ever diminishing. But she stressed: “We want the Box to be at the heart of life in the city. It’s important that people in Plymouth have access to learning, and beautiful, interesting, and challenging, things, whether artists’ works or things from our collection.”

Ms Pomery was a founding director of Turner Contemporary, in Margate, but left after 19 years in post and the gallery’s first 10 years of operation. Ms Pomery oversaw the capital project which delivered the David Chipperfield-designed building on the town’s seafront and was awarded an OBE for her services to the arts in 2012 and an honorary doctorate from the University of Kent in 2020.

She said that while the center in Margate was hinged on its connection with the artist JMW Turner, Plymouth can be pivoted on its link to Sir Joshua Reynolds, “born six miles away”. “But Plymouth is a different place from Margate and the collection here is very different,” she said. “Plymouth was very bold and ambitious and the investment in this is huge, this Box in the sky. And all thanks to Plymouth City Council for its vision to see this through. Arts Council England funding could have gone somewhere else but it came to Plymouth.”

Ms Pomery praised the St Luke’s gallery too, created from an old chapel opposite The Box as part of the overall project, and said: “It is a wonderful space for showcasing contemporary art.” Although Ms Pomery is not from Plymouth, she is familiar with the South West-her father de ella was born in Cornwall and she grew up in Somerset.



The Box boss Victoria Pomery
The Box boss Victoria Pomery

“Plymouth is a fantastic city, the best kept secret in the country,” she said. I’m a fan of Plymouth, and the Box is a fantastic collection, bringing together contemporary art, diverse collections, and historical objects, and a very eclectic range of research materials. That’s the main reason I’m here.” She said Plymouth has its own “vibrant” culture with the Theater Royal, T2, the University of Plymouth and Plymouth College of Art forming a “cultural quarter”, and also Ocean Studios, Flameworks and the Market Hall in Devonport, and its public art including the “amazing” Look II Antony Gormley sculpture at the Hoe, and Richard Deacon’s Moor installation near Pennycomequick.

“He is one of the country’s great sculptors,” she said. “And his work is here in Plymouth.”



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