MK Gallery: Entrepreneurial Insights

MK Gallery continues to progress with its ambitious expansion plans which will culminate in the delivery of a new multi-million pound arts centre for Milton Keynes and the wider region. Anthony Spira, Director, discusses the development and opportunities that the new space offers.

A: You are working on delivering a new multi-pound arts centre for Milton Keynes. Why do you think that it’s important to consistently strive to promote the arts regardless of UK-wide funding cuts?
AS: We are driven by the belief that culture improves lives, even more so in difficult circumstances. We have to be increasingly opportunistic and entrepreneurial in order to achieve our goals. This involves establishing significant new partnerships and identifying shared ambitions and values towards improving well-being and quality of life through high quality arts provision. We are delighted to be playing a significant role in shaping Milton Keynes through creating a new cultural venue of this scale and quality. Regularly cited as the fastest growing place in the UK, the city has launched an ambitious bid to become European Capital of Culture 2023 and will see considerable regional investment over the forthcoming years in a growth corridor between Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford. We believe that it’s important that our ambition aligns with that of the city and that culture is central to its identity.

A: Could you describe the process of working with 6a architects on the expansion and what this has involved? How do you think that the development has been a collaboration with the company?
AS: Described by Icon magazine as “architect detectives”, renowned British practice 6a architects were a natural choice to work with. Arts and culture played an important role in the development of this visionary New Town and it was crucial to work with a practice that enthused about the utopian heyday of Milton Keynes whilst working sensitively alongside artists and the community. 6a Director Tom Emerson is Professor of Architecture at the ETH Department of Architecture in Zurich and constantly cites Milton Keynes as an international modernist icon amongst his colleagues and students. Artist Gareth Jones, who grew up in MK, has also been closely involved in these conversations. Balancing the overall vision with the practicalities of a complex capital project has been crucial and 6a have been exceptional in working with us to find exciting solutions to evolving situations.

A: What are you hoping that the space will be used for and how it will impact the wider public / environment?
AS: One of the early aims was to create a “living room for the city”: a world-class social and cultural space which can be enjoyed by all, with bar and café, auditorium for film, music and events, and dedicated community facilities. The galleries, almost doubled in size, will provide a stunning environment for showing and viewing internationally renowned works, including high profile and historical projects, due to popular demand. These will be accompanied by “seasons” of complementary cross-art form events and outreach programmes. The enhanced and increased facilities will allow us to work with many more partners locally, nationally and internationally and to reach far larger and more diverse audiences.

A: What do the designs / materials involve?
AS: As it is a renovation as well as an expansion – and given the economic context –we are “recycling” as many elements of the existing building as possible. This means highlighting the quirks of the building, making features of columns and beams and revealing its actual fabric. We are looking to create a playful, engaging and welcoming space that is more like a public forum than a rarefied temple. There will also be a new, large circular feature and plenty of shiny new surfaces too.

A: What does the programme of events include?
AS: During 2017, MK Gallery is bringing together artists and arts organisations from across Milton Keynes to celebrate the city’s 50th anniversary. Called City Club, this programme of new art, performances, family activities, happenings and talks is inspired by the original cultural plans for Milton Keynes. City Club was the name given in the 1970s to a mind-boggling leisure complex designed to occupy a whole block of Central Milton Keynes. Among its many wonders were a wave pool, a rodeo and a souk, as well as the theatre and art gallery. We’ve looked back at this un-built scheme, borrowed the name and visualised a space for numerous activities. City Club re-imagined for the 21st century
is like a cover version of a classic song, updated with a new sound.

Once work on the expansion is completed, City Club will also become a physical space, presenting a kind of history of art and design in MK in the public spaces around the new gallery. For now, it’s a pop-up space in different parts of the city; a virtual space; and an imaginative space for the people of Milton Keynes. Please visit

The MK Gallery expansion is being made possible with the support of Arts Council England, Milton Keynes Council, SEMLEP and many other trusts, foundations, individuals and businesses. Find out more:

1. Courtesy of MK Gallery.