The Box takes flight: Plymouth Cabinet of Curiosities explodes into being

Following the announcement of the new name for Plymouth’s pioneering £37 million cultural centre, shoppers in Plymouth’s city centre on Saturday witnessed an unexpected piece of global contemporary dance, street theatre and music, which heralded in the brand for the new ‘museum of the future’: The Box, Plymouth.

From 11.45am, unsuspecting passers-by witnessed curious ‘choruses’ of walking boxes around the Drake Circus area, followed by a stunning and performance, which traversed all forms of dance, music, theatre and even flight, illustrating the new name and strapline for the city’s developing cultural destination: ‘The Box - Where the Greatest Explorer is You.’

Commissioned from the Barbican Theatre, and directed by Mark Laville, ‘The Box’s’ stunning launch performance showcased the stories of over 100,000 boxes, currently holding thousands of artefacts and items, to be housed in the pioneering new museum and centre, due to officially open in 2020 as part of the Mayflower commemoration.

Anticipation grew on Saturday morning in Drake Circus as more and more boxes congregated together followed by a crescendo of live music from around the globe, including rap and folk, which evolved into a performance that sought to illustrate the multi-levelled, dynamic meaning behind the name.  Aerial dancers and performers gathered around to witness the opening and unwrapping of a plethora of objects, including the discovery of a person in a packing case, Polynesian-influenced dance and a couple of other global inputs from Mark Laville.

A symbol for Plymouth’s current regeneration and a museum for the future, the new name and matching brand have been selected as a result of research and collaboration with a number of local and national focus groups, as well as ongoing joint working with the city museum and art gallery’s staff, funders and volunteers.

The team from the in-build cultural complex used social media prior to the event to conduct a ‘top secret’ volunteer recruitment drive for the event titled ‘Mission Volunteering’. This involved encouraging people with a passion for the city’s heritage and arts sector to send in a selfie of themselves in front of an iconic, historical Plymouth landmark with candidates only knowing that they are applying to volunteer at a secret event in July 2017. This generated a large amount of interest and six were selected to support the launch, all of which were extremely excited about the project and its impact on Plymouth.

CEO Paul Brookes said, “We’ve opened up a great debate around the name and got everyone talking about this pioneering project for Plymouth -  which was exactly what we wanted to do! The name is bold and brave just like the contemporary architectural structure of the building itself and illustrates a great depth and multitude of meanings.”

Mr Brookes continued, “First of all, it’s about the key architectural feature,  our ‘box in the sky’, the archive where all the precious collections will be housed and then it becomes about what is inside the box, namely objects, fascinating stories and influences from all over the world. Importantly, it then becomes about breaking out of the box, letting the contents out to the world and what you can use the box for. The strapline ‘Where the Greatest Explorer is You’ will also be used across initial communications, as will the term ‘Plymouth Museums Galleries Archives’ to reflect the family of venues, including Smeaton’s Tower and the Elizabethan House, of which The Box will be a part.  And The Box also fits easily with a ‘family’ of other Plymouth names: The Hoe, The Barbican, The House, The Red House, The Sound, The Barbican. We’re enjoying seeing everyone’s thinking on this, and are delighted to see it has sparked so much passionate interest and debate.”

In collaboration with the world’s leading arts design, marketing and advertising agency, Dewynters, the centre’s leadership team has selected the name ‘The Box’ alongside a striking new logo, which will also be revealed across the hoardings at the building site on North Hill. Dewynters has worked on branding projects for national and international organisations including the Royal Academy, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam and the British Film Institute.

The Box logo was designed to reflect the rich diversity and breadth of experiences that this new proposition offers visitors from Plymouth itself, the UK and the wider world. Based on the structure of a specimen box, the six separate compartments and their bold, individual typefaces suggest that The Box is not just one place or one collection, but a home to several differing spaces and collections – each an experience and world to explore in itself. Arts, history, science, education and so much more can be found to enjoy inside, all different, all connected, and all under one incredible new roof. A modern fresh approach was taken to reflect the relevance of these collections in the 21st century, and to complement the contemporary style of the building.

Councillor Ian Bowyer, Leader of Plymouth City Council, said; ““Wow, what a way to make a mark with a new name! This event brought colour, fun and life into the city centre and has given people a real sense of what’s coming our way. We saw volunteers, staff, art students, artists, history and performance enthusiasts all working together to create something special. This is good news for The Box which also aims to capture all these cultural strands and bring them together in one place.”

Mr Bowyer continued: “Thanks is also due to the Barbican Theatre, Drake Circus, Yo Sushi and Marks & Spencer, who have all helped us make this happen.”

Coastal Communities Minister Jake Berry said: “This Government is determined to revive our historic coastal towns and ‘The Box’ will be an amazing symbol for both Plymouth’s and the whole of Britain’s coastal heritage. Backed by £2 million from our Coastal Communities Fund, this exciting new museum is set to become a key visitor attraction and this launch performance is just the first step on its journey.”

Funding for The Box has been secured from a range of significant partners including Plymouth City Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, the Coastal Communities Fund, the Garfield Weston Foundation, Plymouth University and the Wolfson Foundation.

The launch performances were brought together with The Box team working with The Barbican Theatre, Drake Circus, Yo Sushi and Marks & Spencer.  Lead Artistic Director Mark Laville of the Barbican Theatre brought in Nicola Rosewarne as Director, Jules Laville as Choreographer and Matt Dean as the Designer.  A host of professional artists were drawn in from the city and region, including Paul Lacey from the Scribes, Jack Rosewarne-Hebb from the Andy Quick Band and artists from Onyx Aerial Arts and Yskynna Aerial Arts.  The creative team also partnered with City College Plymouth’s Performing Arts Department to create the piece.

Paul Brookes said: “Like our architecture, ‘The Box’ as our title is a strong, brave, contemporary move. As this weekend’s performance from the Barbican Theatre team showed, although to some it may at first glance appear simple, it actually holds a great depth and a multitude of meanings. This weekend’s launch performances also illustrate how the Plymouth cultural sector can work together with the businesses and facilities within the city centre to showcase the artistic journey that we are all on together.  Thank you from the project team to everyone involved; to Drake Circus, Yo Sushi and Marks & Spencer, for hosting this innovative launch for us, and to all the performers and volunteers who made this such an exciting event.”