Published in The Herald, 10 May 2013
Agenda: Reopen McLellan Galleries
Karin Spalter Currie
Friday 10 May 2013
Long-term solutions for the revival of the McLellan Galleries’ fortunes, a subject aired by Phil Miller in his Inside Track column last week, are very much the desired objective of the developing campaign of the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts (RGI).
As Glasgow’s only purpose-built galleries they are in a league of their own. Can we let another decade of disappearance from public view lead to their ultimate demise, beyond the ken even of the upcoming generation?
They are in fine condition. There is a plethora of proposals for their re-use, and they are ideally positioned to support the widely recognised need for the regeneration of Sauchiehall Street. What is required is a strategy and a management structure to ensure a sustainable economic future for them. The avowed and preferred option of Glasgow City Council is that they remain an arts’ venue. Nonetheless they are currently surplus to requirements.
“We have neither the capacity nor the resources to take on the McLellan galleries,” was the blunt comment by a senior Glasgow Life officer. “A disgraceful lack of aspiration,” was the subsequent comment from a Glasgow Life board member.
Both comments accurately reflect the galleries’ predicament and the implicit challenge. Since the galleries were dropped from Glasgow Life’s portfolio in 2007 there has been no-one in their driving seat.
A symposium was held last November organised jointly by the council’s Governance & Asset Management Unit and the RGI. A steering group was charged to prepare the brief for an options appraisal. Funding requested from Development & Regeneration Services was then subject to clarification of the Common Good issue, which first required the preparation of a “memorial” (sic). This is still ongoing.
The RGI’s role can only be as campaign leader. The premises doubtless require a composite solution based on a sustaining income and most likely mixed use attractions, complementing the galleries, in the substantial ancillary accommodation the building contains. While there is no obvious front-runner to tackle a task of these proportions, Glasgow is teeming with well-supported, vibrant groups and societies within its cultural framework with an interest in the scope the galleries provide.
Glasgow has become perhaps the liveliest centre of the visual arts in Britain outside London,” wrote John Myerscough (Glasgow Cultural Statistics Digest, for Glasgow City Council and Glasgow Life, February 2011); the galleries are at the heart of its traditional fine art quarter.
The cost of the venture is modest relative to the irreplaceable character and quality of the building and the opportunities it affords. As a civic resource it surely doesn’t have to make money but rather to pay its way, providing a catalyst for economic development.
The need for a rigorous market analysis and a robust business plan is paramount to the viability of the project. Perhaps an evaluation of the available assets compares with that of Glasgow’s head of museums and galleries, James Paton, who reported in 1879 that “Glasgow could have a museum/gallery to rival the best in Europe and one that would be sure to have a beneficial effect on the city as a whole”. The agenda? To enhance the amenity of the area, to deliver a world-class programme worthy of this world-class resource and to restore access to our cultural heritage to the people of Glasgow.
The RGI has opted to risk a first step towards a permanent return of Scotland’s biggest open annual exhibition to its traditional home in November this year. A costly exercise but essential. The Institute aspires to reasserting its distinguished, historic role promoting contemporary artists, providing an annual showcase for the very best in Scotland.
There will be an opportunity for members of the public to visit the galleries during the Doors Open Day weekend of September 21 and 22, in association with the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust. Details will be published in its brochure.
Meantime, we look forward to announcing soon our call for entries for the RGI’s 152nd Annual Exhibition – at the McLellan Galleries.
Karin Spalter Currie is President of The Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts.
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