FIRSTSITE bosses say the art gallery has “turned a corner” despite making a loss of £243,000 last year.

According to the financial accounts the gallery started the 2016/17 year with £667,009 and ended with £424,005.

The accounts also show Firstsite, which opened in 2011, cut its causal staff from 63 to 46 in a bid to meet strict financial pressures set by its chief funder, Arts Council England.

But gallery director Sally Shaw says 2017/18 could be Firstsite’s most successful year - largely down to the unprecedented success of Grayson Perry’s exhibition, The Life of Julie Cope, which has seen the highest attendance of any show since the gallery opened.

Mrs Shaw said: “Firstsite has experienced an outstanding 12 months in 2017, enjoying the fruits of a great deal of hard work and investment to get the gallery back on track.”

There have been 131,663 visitors since April 1 2017 - just short of the 135,000 target for the end of this financial year.

But the director said the turnaround was actually set in late 2016, when the Gee Vaucher exhibition opened in the gallery, in Lewis Gardens.

One particular piece, Oh, America - which depicts the Statue of Liberty covering her face, made headlines around the world after Donald Trump was elected as US President.

News coverage of the exhibition was also tweeted by stars such as Katy Perry and Rihanna which Mrs Shaw said put Firstsite “firmly back on the map”.

Mrs Shaw said: “Financially, Firstsite is also beginning to see similar levels of improvement.

“We are delighted to be returned to Arts Council England’s National Portfolio on the strength of our new Business Plan for 2018 to 2022.”

The national portfolio accreditation means the gallery will be handed £814,512 per year, for four years from the next financial year, which begins on April 1.

Having been taken off the portfolio in 2015, the gallery had to rely on year-to-year funding from the arts council. Mrs Shaw said: “This major triumph has been achieved on the back of comprehensive revisions to the way the organisation is run, reductions to its overheads, re-organising the staff and extensive community consultation.”

She also said the gallery had stopped using Friary West Ltd, a company appointed by a previous director to carry out its human resources, which was connected to to chair of its trustees Dr Noorzaman Rashid.

In 2015/16 the gallery paid that company £92,202. The costs was reduced last year, to £18,087.

Admin now costs the gallery less than £2,000 a year.

Between 2016 and 2017 the number of casual staff was cut from 63 to 46 , which Mrs Shaw said meant more contracted staff were taken on to “significantly improve the quality of the programme and consistency and quality of visitor experience”.

There has also been significant investment in the gallery’s website.

Ms Shaw said: “There is still a great deal of work to do so we continue to drive improvements and seek the best return on investment for the people who support us, ensuring every pound we receive is dedicated to delivering more fantastic exhibitions films, learning and education activities and eventsfor Colchester and Essex.”