Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP
Office of the First Minister
St. Andrew's House
Dear Mr Salmond,
I am writing to you in respect to the “Civic Square” which is currently being proposed for Union Terrace Gardens and the Denburn Valley in Aberdeen, which is being brought forwards by Sir Ian Wood and Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future.
As an SNP voter and citizen of Aberdeen, I must say that I am extremely dismayed at the support you are giving to this project. I feel slightly let down as someone who voted for the Scottish National Party in the hope that you would lead Scotland to an independent country which can play on its considerable contemporary strengths to become a world leader in terms of cultural and creative output.
In the last twenty or so years our country has shrugged aside the many twee and negatively stereotypical perception to produce an impressive output of Artists, Musicians, Filmmakers, Writers, Designers, and Computer Gaming. For such a small country we have an impressively large inventive output. Scotland now has its own representation in the Venice Biennale, and there is also high representation of Scottish based artists in the annual Turner Prize. Many Scottish bands have gone on to achieve international acclaim, and even our unsigned acts regularly have a high representation in the South By Southwest Festival in Austin Texas. And we have an internationally renowned software and games company in Rockstar North.
As an Artist myself who has been involved in many of the above activities, I am immensely proud of our national output and to be involved in it. Because of this I am fully committed to pushing forwards our country to celebrate what we have achieved and how we have managed to embrace contemporary trends and culture to turn our nation around in the post-industrial age.
Given the wealth of talent in Scotland and commitments of many who live here, I hope my sadness at current policy of Government support, or lack thereof, for the creative industries. Both in respect to the lack of information on the upcoming merger of Scottish Screen and the Scottish Arts Council, but more pressing is my concern and distress with your personal support of Sir Ian and ACSEF’s plans to destroy Aberdeen’s historic and beautiful Union Terrace Gardens, which had been to provide a home to the new Contemporary Arts Centre.
As clearly identified in the Halliday Fraser Munro Feasibility Study, published in June, as well as Sir Ian’s donation of £50 million, between £60 and £90 million must be found from other sources, which would either have to be from the City or Government, each meaning that taxpayer’s money must go into creating this space, which has been widely reported to be equivalent to Red Square, wholly unsuitable for Aberdeen, with a population of 200,000.
Other details in the alarmingly vague study outline how an underground concourse can house “boutique” shops or restaurants, which are suggested in the study to be the like of “Harrods” or a celebrity restaurant possibly part of Jamie Oliver’s or Gordon Ramsey’s enterprises. These suggestions seem to me to be rather elite businesses for a civic square which is to be accessed by all, I doubt very much if the average Aberdonian could afford to regularly shop in Harrods or be dined by Channel 4’s finest. I know I couldn’t.
Aberdeen has existing civic areas that require regeneration, and several areas outwith the city centre which are also in dire need of regeneration but are not receiving it due to council cuts. The same cuts have also led to the closure of several homeless charities and foundations within the city. It seems ludicrous that this scheme is even being considered given the already existing shortfalls in funding and the current financial climate. To invest this amount of money in a single city centre venture then those areas outside of the city centre will be excluded from investment.
Other concerns have been aired from the Artistic Community as well, who have backed the proposed Art Centre plans for the last two years through it’s unsteady road from commissioning an internationally renowned architect, feasibility studies, public consultation that led to the project receiving £9.5 million pounds from Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Arts Council and Aberdeen City Council. The innovative project was set to re-house Peacock Visual Arts, Citymoves Dance Space and Whitespace: ACC’s Arts Development and Education teams.
Aberdeen is currently the only of Scotland’s four main cities to be without a substantial Centre for Contemporary Art, which shows in the statistics of art and design graduates from Grays School of Art, the majority of which will immediately move on outside of Aberdeen to Glasgow, Edinburgh or London in search of employment and inspirational opportunities which Aberdeen is sadly missing.
It has been widely reported and is evident here in Scotland, that the Arts have a strong role in the redevelopment of post-industrial cities. Glasgow’s cultural boom since being awarded the European City of Culture and more recently, Dundee’s redevelopment and cultural awakening in the wake of the establishment of Dundee Contemporary Arts, which has seen the city attracting more high profile design and computing businesses, government funding and the upcoming Victoria and Albert museum. This is an established route of economic development through cultural enterprises that could be so easily applied to Aberdeen.
Unfortunately, even though Sir Ian and representatives from ACSEF have loosely factored a Contemporary Arts Centre into their plans for the Denburn Valley, the money allocated to Peacock Visual Arts is both project-specific and time-barred meaning that the already raised funds may not necessarily be transferred to another plan.
As you may be aware, a colleague and peer, Katie Guthrie has set up an online petition to support the Contemporary Arts Centre and save the historic Gardens which, at time of writing, has 1089 signatures with many interesting comments relating to the desperate need to protect Aberdeen’s only city centre green space, which is protected by Historic Scotland and a conservation area.
I am also interesting in hearing the standpoint of the Scottish Government on Sir Ian’s proposed development and hope that my faith in Government can be restored. I would be extremely dismayed to think that it is the policy of the Government to support the investment of money, no matter the circumstance, rather than improve the cultural profile of the country around the world and create a modern, vibrant exciting Country which can continue to punch above it’s weight.
Thank you for your time and I hope you can restore my faith in the SNP led Government to do the right thing for the future and for each and every person in Scotland.