The Arches: A History (and Why #SaveTheArches Needs a New Angle)

Kirsty Conway


The Arches being forced into administration due to the loss of its late licence is a serious blow to Glasgow’s arts scene. Founded in 1991, and rooted in Glasgow’s being awarded City of Culture in 1990, The Arches originally used its cabaret club, Café Loco, to help fund other arts activity. This cabaret was gradually replaced by regular club nights, and from the beginning The Arches has been dependent on its club scene, which consistently produced more than half the venue’s turnover, in order to provide a stage to launch innovative new ideas. The Arches is known for its variety within and across art mediums, including visual art, theatre, dance, and music, and for supporting established and emergent artists alike, seen, for example, in their “Sessions” events, marketed as “a new breed of open mic night”, opening the stage to any kind of performance. Financially, it is the late-night club nights that have allowed The Arches to do all of this, while remaining a not-for-profit arts charity. Losing the club nights effectively means losing much, if not all, of the venue’s massive contribution to the arts in Scotland.


There has always been a focus at the venue on making the arts more accessible, particularly to younger people, who are often put off “traditional” theatres and other arts venues, because of a perceived (whether real or imagined) “stuffiness”, and also because of what are often very high ticket prices. The Arches challenges traditional notions of what an arts venue should be, keeping variety wide and costs relatively low.


Of course, as well as funding the performances and exhibitions, the club nights are an important part of what makes The Arches accessible to young people. The use of clubbing culture to connect the way many young people enjoy music, dancing and socialising with various art forms is a crucial part of what makes The Arches unique. Losing this side of the venue not only means that the business model is no longer viable, but also damages The Arches as a platform that supports and encourages inclusion and originality in the arts.


As well as being a creative hub, featuring and discovering talented local and international artists, The Arches as a venue includes a Café Bar and Restaurant, making a conscious effort to be as inclusive as possible, serving everything from a quiet coffee to the full shebang three-course meal. The locally sourced produce is a reminder that The Arches takes pride in supporting what Scotland has to offer, not only in terms of art, but also with regard to food and trade.


While what looks at the moment like the loss of a uniquely brilliant venue is understandably causing outrage, seen in close to 40,000 signing the petition to reinstate their licence, and an overwhelming #savethearches social media campaign, including support from artists and influential industry members, it is important to note why exactly The Arches lost its late licence. Last year, the drugs related death of Regane MacColl, aged 17 at the time, and a number of other drugs-related incidents at the club led to the police raising licencing issues. The Arches cooperated with the police, implementing requested measures, but drug abuse in the club has remained a problem, including numerous cases in which ambulances have had to be called for people in life-threatening conditions. The ongoing issue has eventually led to the Arches late licence being revoked, meaning it can only remain open until midnight. This in turn means that the business model of the club nights supporting other events is no longer viable, resulting in The Arches going into administration in an attempt to salvage some of the business. Glasgow City Council is largely powerless in this situation – as a body it is separate from the Glasgow Licencing Board, which came under heavy pressure from Police Scotland to revoke the licence. Thus, the Scottish Government find themselves with a dilemma – maintain a zero-tolerance policy of substance abuse in licenced venues by making an example of The Arches, or intervene to save the iconic venue and its impressive contribution to Scotland’s arts scene. The government have said they will do what they can to help The Arches, but what exactly this will involve is unclear. The question now is what exactly is needed to save The Arches – how much money, where would it come from, and on what conditions?


At the risk of sounding like my mother, simply returning the late licence sends the wrong message: that drug abuse, to the point of endangering lives, is an unavoidable part of the clubbing and arts scene of the venue. However, the closure of The Arches is not the solution to the problem – substance experimentation and abuse is a worldwide issue, and all the closure of the venue will do is send drug users to other, possibly less safe places. To me, there are two obvious possible solutions. The first is to recognise that this is not a problem specific to The Arches, but rather with drug abuse more generally, and to implement a new system for nightclubs to better enforce a zero-tolerance policy regarding substance abuse. This would be an ideal outcome, however, it is easier said than done, and given that Police Scotland’s reaction thus far has effectively been to push the venue towards closure, it seems unlikely that this route will be pursued. Thus, the alternative is to come up with a new business model for The Arches, i.e. a new way for the venue to fund its arts events, perhaps through the food and drinks side of the business. Coming up with a new business plan requires more in-depth knowledge of the state of the company than I have, but between the creative brains of the huge numbers of people who have expressed their desire to save the venue, we should be able to come up with a solution that doesn’t necessarily involve re-starting the late night club scene, to allow The Arches to continue as a leading, influential arts venue.


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