an eclectic Welsh center that aims to be a home for everyone – including a sweet shop and pet grooming salon

• Read about the museums nominated for Art Fund Museum of the Year 2022 here

It’s a safe bet that Tŷ Pawb in Wrexham, North Wales, is unique among all institutions to ever make the Museum of the Year shortlist: a center that includes an art gallery, artist space, workshops and a dog Grooming salon, an excellent knitwear store and a magnificent pastry shop.

This eclectic mix is ​​now a source of local pride in the north Wales city, and the center became the headquarters for Britain’s Capital of Culture 2025 bid. Although Bradford won, Wrexham made it onto the shortlist of four of the original 20 bidders – and was also announced in May as one of five former cities to be granted city status to mark the Queen’s Jubilee.

Tŷ Pawb, which means “house for everyone”, was built as a parking garage and general market. The city already had two indoor markets and the struggling newcomer was relaunched in 2018 – due to local controversy over community spending – as a community arts center that can also host extensive exhibitions and live music. The new development, designed by architects Featherstone Young, maintains the independent merchants but builds links between local artists and services, charities, immigrant groups – including the sizeable Portuguese-speaking community and recent arrivals from Syria – and arts institutions, including the city’s museum and archives and others across Wales and beyond. The center is funded by Council, with Arts Council Wales providing grants – Tŷ Pawb hopes to see core funding soon – parking fees and rental of shops and stalls.

Dealers and artist-makers now work side by side, with a showcase for the artist-in-residence. Bespoke furniture and lighting soften the harshness of the concrete shell, which houses a bar and food court and adventure games featuring sturdy artist-designed pieces that double as furniture and building materials. Many local workers, who come to the market for a curry or pie and chips, stroll in to peruse the free gallery exhibits.

This cultural community resource ranks highly in Wrexham ©James Morris

That Terracottapolis Exhibition, which ended in June, proved particularly popular and poignant. It combined objects from Wrexham Museums shops and work by contemporary artists to tell the story of the Ruabon Marl Formation, a vast seam of fine red clay that once provided much brick and tile work and produced decorative terracotta that are still found in can be seen across Britain, but also much further afield – one visitor recalled picking up a tile at a site in India and seeing the Ruabon stamp on the back. It has been part of the lives of many visitors: architectural ornaments made by the Henry Dennis ‘Red Works’ factory survive on storefronts, walls and roofs throughout the town, including the pub just opposite the museum. Exhibits included a dazzling Edwardian tiled door from a demolished works manager’s office, released after years in archive shops, and the scale model for Antony Gormley’s 120ft brick giant proposed for Leeds but never built.

The current exhibition The tailor storyfocuses on a local wonder, the Wrexham Tailor’s Quilt, a patchwork Garden of Eden created by James Williams in the 1850s from scraps of military uniform fabric. On loan from the National Museum of Wales, which bought it from his grandson in the 1930s, it was a main attraction at Tate’s 2014 British folk art Exhibition. The show also looks at contemporary designers, including Alexander McQueen.

Tŷ Pawb had been open barely two years when creative director Jo Marsh says they were “forged by fire” in the pandemic. Forced closures gave them time to figure out what they could and should do. The smaller gallery, newly titled Useful Art Space, now organizes people, not exhibitions, including children’s play days and arts and crafts sessions, where information about local services and support is also available. The art team joined forces with isolated locals, formed WhatsApp groups and had letters thrown through the doors of older members of the Portuguese community. When the doors of the center reopened, Welsh, Portuguese, English and Polish speakers often met for the first time.

Winning the grand prize would create at least one additional full-time job, but plans for the future, boosted by the £15,000 reward for nomination, include partnering with a local mental health charity to create a roof garden on top of the car park and creating a multicultural center for North Wales in association with Race Council Cymru.

Jo Marsh, the artistic director of Tŷ Pawb, with her eight-month-old daughter Cassie and her favorite object in the museum Courtesy of Tŷ Pawb

Must-see: Creative game material

“I’m passionate about elevating play and playwork as cultural and creative practices, so the object I chose is part of Tŷ Pawb’s collection of creative loose parts for play – curated for us by Penny Wilson of [the art collective] mount. This is a giant piece of shimmering blue fabric about 15 meters long – it’s a favorite with kids who come to Tŷ Pawb’s weekly playwork sessions in our Useful Art Room. I love the way the size and texture of this piece transforms the space and children’s experience, becoming a giant flowing mermaid tail or a weird sparkling landscape. I remember Hélio Oiticica Parangoles capes when I see the kids twirling this piece around.”

Jo Marsh, Creative Director, Tŷ Pawb

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