A £10.7m grand plan to revolutionise the Harris could be the first of its kind in the UK.
Bosses at what many view as the emblem of Preston say they want to intermingle the museum, library and art gallery.
But as part of the ambitious project, announced as the Harris celebrates its 125 birthday, creative directors at the grade I listed building are calling on Prestonians to throw their weight behind the initiative.
Deputy head of culture at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery Tim Joel said: “People are wanting us to bring our collections together more cohesively.
“It’s about using our spaces more creatively and innovatively so that we can display more of our collection.
“So what can we do with the corners of the balconies and unusual spaces? How can we display this more creatively? How can we use the fabulous height of the whole space?
“It’s about telling the stories of Preston and Lancashire and being able to do that through our collections so that people can come on a journey of discovery throughout the building rather than being in the bitty pockets as they are at the moment.
“The public have told us that they don’t want the segregated spaces.
“So you will be able to experience our fine art collection and get a book about it in the same place.”
The changes will mean that the running of the library, which is currently run by Lancashire County Council, will be taken on by Preston City Council on behalf of the county authority.
Tonight the Harris launches its public consultation inviting people to come forward with their ideas for the future of the creative hub.
It comes as a bid for £4.7 million, to support the overall costs of the £10.7 million project, is in front of judges at the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
The bid is backed by £3.6 million of funding already in place from both Preston City Council, along with Lancashire County Council, the City Deal, Arts Council England and local supporters.
A fundraising campaign #HarrisYourPlace, to make up the remaining £2.4 million, has also launched, spearheaded by the Friends of the Harris charity.
It is the second time the Harris has submitted such a bid to the HLF, the first of which fell through.
But Tim is confident that the new bid is stronger and says its result will be known in January 2019. The controversial glass frontage which was included in the previous HLF application is not part of the new plans.
As well as fusing the three facets of the Harris, with almost 1,000 people visiting the building every day, bosses say the money will go towards critical repairs and refurbishment.
“It’s about securing the next 125 years of the building,” said Tim. “Over time it has gone through wear and tear and there are issues with the fabric of the building. We want to create a venue for a 21st century audience.”
Interim head of culture at the Harris Rachel Mulhearn added: “It’s a much valued and much need resource in the city and it needs to be looked after, it needs to be modernised for the future. The time is right.”
Through the scheme bosses at the Harris also hope to increase its visitor numbers by 100,000 each year to 460,000, who in turn will boost the local economy on their visits to the city.
Ideas for the Harris’s future include exhibiting objects which have never before been displayed. Bosses want to see a dynamic central hub for activities on the ground floor, improved exhibition, event and meeting spaces, more opportunities for people to get involved and be creative, better support for artists and businesses, and a new entrance, stairway and lift on the Lancaster Road side opposite Preston Guild Hall.
The consultation will include everything from what the Harris displays and how it displays it, events, activities and workshop, to what a modern library looks and feels like.
Staff at the Harris will be asking a series of questions online, throughout the building and occasionally popping out into the city, to find out what the residents and visitors of Preston and Lancashire really want.
Coun Peter Kelly, cabinet member for culture and leisure at Preston City Council, said: “We have a one in 100 year opportunity to make the Harris uniquely special again, for everyone, but we can only do it with the help of local people.
“Telling us what you want from the Harris and contributing to the campaign, if you can, will make all the difference.”
To find out more or donate to the #HarrisYourPlace campaign, members of the public can go to bit.ly/harrisyourplace, drop in to the Harris shop, or send a cheque, payable to Friends of the Harris, to Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library, Market Square, Preston PR1 2PP.