Wednesday, 26 August 2009

There Is a Light That Never Goes Out

Yesterday, after months of rumours and deliberation, The Lighthouse, Scotland's Centre for Architecture and Design went into Administration. Hit by the credit crunch, the centre was given a crisis package of £250, 000 and an extra £50,000 pounds of core funding last year to help clear an apparent budget deficit of £300,000. Unfortunately this was not enough to turn the business' concerns around and "the extra income ... needed from rents, grants and conference and events just did not materialise as businesses, organisations and charitable trusts cut back on their activities when the credit crunch hit and the recession deepened."

Established in 1999 the Lighthouse has been responsible for delivering high-quality Education projects, Events and Exhibitions, including facilitating and co-ordinating the Scotland-wide Six Cities Design Festival. A victim of the credit crunch, the Lighthouse's activities and presence will be a great loss to Glasgow and Scotland's cultural infrastructure, at what is becoming a difficult time for culture in Scotland.

Earlier this month saw the deadline for Public submission to parliamentary committee discussions of Creative Scotland and the Public Service Reform Bill. The committee looking into the Public Services Reform Bill, which will see within it the establishment of Creative Scotland, a body which will replace Scottish Screen and The Scottish Arts Council. The original Creative Scotland bill failed to make it through Parliament last year and now has been shoehorned into a wider bill.

Many sources believe that the creation of this new body will find practicioners working in many media fighting it out for the same pot of government funding. Another bone of contention is that the exact details of exactly what the new body is goin to do and how it is going to do it. The information available seems to suggest a leaning towards "creative industries" i.e. creative practices that make money for the economy. There is a belief that the new organisation will depart from the previous "arms-length" policy of award giving which the previous two bodies subscribed to, in essence allowing Government to dictate the criteria for grants and awards.

A worry could be that first refusal for any public money going to projects of fiscal value rather than the furthering of artistic practice or engaging in new projects which may not have any immediate financial return. The Scottish Artist Union response to the bill can be found here, and a "Creative Scotland" blog run by Variant collates articles and updates on the project.

In the North, we are still awaiting information on the "civic square" project lead by ACSEF and part funded by Sir Ian Wood. £40,000 pounds of capital funding has been earmarked by Aberdeen City Council for the second phase of the proposed project, the first phase being the production of the HFM technical appraisal. The Second Phase was originally planned to begin in July and be carried out by the Lighthouse, is to involve further public consultation, exploring funding mechanisms, economic assessment and transport analysis. Even though the project is complete departure from last year's Aberdeen Local Plan(2008).

In the interim the Artist-led I Heart UTG campaign has been established, with the primary goal to Educate and raise awareness of the actual details which aren't included in the spin surrounding the plan and Sir Ian's "Generous Donation." The campaign is taking the form of a rising petition, badges, articles, Club and Gig nights, exhibitions keeping the issue fresh in the minds of Aberdonians in the lead up to the elusive public consultation, which looks set to be carried out by ACSEF, the group bringing forwards the plans for the square, which will see a six acre area above a road and railway paved over and the Historic Union Terrace Gardens.

The sad fact is that this has become a long game. Building was supposed to begin on the new Contemporary Art Centre in November and be completed by next summer, this is now in hiatus with an uncertain future. A Contemporary Arts Centre is part of the loose and vague plans for ACSEF's square, but this precludes any details or any detailed consultation with any major stakeholder in the Art Centre project, with the expectation that the £9.5 Million of funding already raised for the existing project being moved across to this new development.

In contrast, and on the brighter side, the Trongate 103 project is set to open its doors on 12th September. The new complex, located in Glasgow's Merchant City is set to house Glasgow Independant Studio and Project Room, GMAC, Glasgow Print Studio, Project Ability, Russian Cultural Centre/ Cafe Cossachok, Street Level Photoworks and Transmission Gallery. Giving Glasgow another centre for contemporary Art, an innovative project at the forefront of developments to transform the Merchant City into a cultural quarter for the city.

It is interesting to look at the project, one which has enhanced almost an entire block between King Street, Parnie street and the Trongate itself, with the proposed Peacock's Art Centre in Aberdeen. On a much smaller scale, the new building which is now in under threat was set to house Peacock Visual Arts, ACC Arts Development and Education groups, CityMoves Dancespace, would be a very similar project. A building to house a number of Arts and Cultural groups, to encourge creativity and engage community with the benefits the arts can bring.

Trongate 103 is the kind of development which is needed in Scotland at the moment to promote collaboration, participation and growth within the Artistic Community. It is just a shame that Aberdeen is unable to accept these kind of projects in the way Glasgow does, how the city activelly wants to create a Cultural Centre. In the north culture is secondary to capital, thinly-veiled fiscal opportunities have the ability to gezump existing projects if they are supported by a large enough donation, no matter the moral, ethical and actual financial implications.

In the North, nobody can hear you scream...

....or they may just not be listening.


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