Plans for £1m Elterwater arts centre

“Shed” series Jill Randall Credit: David Bennett

There are plans to build a £1million tourist centre in Elterwater near Ambleside to celebrate the life of the artist Kurt Schwitters, who died a pauper in Kendal but is recognised as a great contemporary artist.

But many locals don't want the investment in their area.

Kurt Scwitters' art divides opinion. Whether you love it or hate it, to the contemporary art world, he is a genius.

"He made very large sculptures, which filled the whole walls of the barn internally and it's important because his work was very influential on other artists."

He came to the UK as a German refugee in the Second World War, fleeing persecution in Nazi Germany.

Unfortunately the English thought he was a spy so when he first arrived he was sent to prison in the Isle of Man. After a stint in London, he found Ambleside and fell in love with the Lake District.

"This is his fourth and final Merz Barn experiment. It's the only one in England, the only one outside of Europe, and of course he wasn't able to finish it when he died in 1948 but because the Nazis rejected him and tried to kill him, he renounced his German citizenship - I mean after Auschwitz and Belsen. And he applied for and became British - he was awarded British citizenship - so in a sense he's our responsibility."

The Littoral Arts Trust wants at least £1million to turn a barn in Elterwater - his old studio - into a tourist centre. The Arts Council is the main funder they have to convince.

"The ideal plan is that there will be a museum built - just a small, compact museum, possibly built underground so to minimise the impact on the landscape - telling Schwitters' story and then the other part will be working with modernartists - this to me is the really exciting thing - so a gallery to enable contemporary artists to display their work but also a space they can come to where they can be in residence."

It's already brought one German to the Lake District for the first time: the German Consul in Edinburgh. It's hoped the tourist centre would bring many more in search of cultural tourism.

"I think it's a beautiful place and I understand why Kurt Schwitters came here, left London - even though he was a city person - to live here in this beautiful countryside."

But many in Elterwater don't want more tourism. Around 80% of properties in Elterwater are second homes.

Locals complain the traffic in the height of summer is crippling, the roads can't cope with it and tourists leave cars along the banks, which damages the environment.

"Locals struggle to park so to add even more tourists to what we've got now at it's just going to be impossible."

"And the public transport system is pretty poor. You know, it's just going to be a very, very big impact and probably in the long-term a detrimental impact to the environment and to the area."

"I think a £1million could be better spent elsewhere than actually putting up a building like that to be honest."

"I think it's fantastic that any investment should come into the area - especially a £1million arts centre - but you know, if it's going to bring in a lot of people it would only work well if there's a support system that works around it and that it benefits the local community so i.e. any jobs that are run through it are given to local people and if it's going to make lots and lots of money that some of that money is re-invested back into the local community."

The trust and Cumbria Tourism want to hear from members of the community before more concrete plans for the centre are drawn up.

It's still an idea at the moment and needs to get funding.

"Cultural tourism is vastly untapped within Cumbria and the Lake District as a whole. It's a growing sector of the tourism economy and one that we're keen to develop. Obviously any proposed development in the area needs to be balanced with local needs and local people's opinion."