Bid for Schwitters barn to become art museum

The Westmorland Gazette: The Merz Barn in Langdale The Merz Barn in Langdale

Kurt Schwitters, the German artist who fled to South Lakeland to escape the Nazis, has inspired plans for a £1million tourist attraction in Ambleside.

The remains of his ‘Merz Barn’ could be given a major overhaul to convert it into a rural art museum.

The building – a farm shed in Great Langdale – was Schwitters’ studio while he was living as a refugee in the area, and he turned it into an architectural ‘installation’ which came to be regarded as one of the great pioneering pieces of modern art.

“It’s an incredibly important site,” said Celia Larner, trustee and co-director of the Littoral Arts Trust, which owns the barn at Elterwater.

“It has great significance for Cumbria and for Britain. It would be the only site that honours the contributions made by refugee artists to our culture.

“Kurt’s is a life we should be honouring and it is fitting it is in this area, where he fled, with something that will celebrate his work.”

A meeting is to take place next week between Arts Council bosses, representatives from the National Trust and members of Cumbria County Council, South Lakeland District Council, Lakes Parish Council and the Lake District National Park Authority.

Children from Langdale CofE Primary School – official advisors to the scheme – will also attend.

At the meeting it is hoped ideas will be suggested for how the museum can be developed – as well as how the money can be raised.

Ms Larner said she could not rule out the possibility that plans could eventually include a cafe or 3D replicas of Schwitters’ work, while Jean Birkett, Lakes Parish Council representative for the Langdale area, suggested there could be a conference centre and facilities for visitors to sleep on site.

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“There is no doubt this could become a major tourist attraction for the area,” said South Lakes MP Tim Farron, who revealed his intentions of bringing the project into a debate in Parliament.

“I can see him becoming a figure like Wordsworth, who has become a key figure in the area’s culture.

“I can see both the Merz Barn and the Schwitters ‘trail’ becoming a serious attraction for a particular type of tourist.”

Richard Greenwood, Cumbria Tourism’s head of operations, also hailed plans to discuss the future of the barn, describing it as ‘iconic’ and ‘important’.

The shell of the Merz Barn stands as it was left in 1948, with evidence of Schwitters’ working techniques and materials still visible on some of the barn walls.

It was bought in 2006 by the Littoral Arts Trust, which has been scraping together £60,000 a year to keep the barn from falling into disrepair.

The trust has launched an international fundraising campaign and it is hoped a shortlist of ideas will be drawn up following next week’s meeting.

For more information visit www.merzbarn.net

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