With the CCA under threat, there seems to be a trend occurring amongst arts spaces in Glasgow
Following the blow of the closure of The Arches a few years ago, Sauchiehall Street’s Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) is now under threat after another fire at the Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Building. Another hub in the city’s arts scene, the CCA has been closed for months now, with little and confusing communication from Glasgow City Council bosses as to when it may open again. For many residents of the city, the way in which the council is handling this situation seems all too familiar.
Back in 2015, Glasgow’s cultural landscape was dealt a blow with the closure of The Arches. The nonprofit organisation was renowned for its influence on a plethora of artistic mediums, particularly theatre and music. As a creatively receptive venue with a penchant for the unusual, The Arches attracted both established theatre practitioners such as Adrian Howells and fresh talent from the Royal Conservatoire’s contemporary performance course. Theatre Studies students here at Glasgow also performed at the venue, notably, Kieran Hurley who frequented the venue with great success. The thriving music scene at The Arches was, in part, due to the fact that it was home to a beloved nightclub. Through club nights and gigs, The Arches hosted a truly eclectic range of musical offerings which spanned almost every conceivable genre. Over the years, many big names including The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Franz Ferdinand and Ben E. King performed at the venue. However, despite drawing prominent artists to the venue and being the main source of income for the organisation, it was the nightclub model which was to lead to the demise of the esteemed venue.
Police Scotland had long harboured a sense of animosity towards The Arches due to drug and alcohol related incidents that transpired during their club nights. Threats by Police Scotland to revoke The Arches' license date as far back as 2008. In February 2014, 17-year-old Regane MacColl passed away at the Royal Infirmary after allegedly taking Mortal Kombat branded pills at the venue. Understandably, this led to the Police enforcing an over-21s admission policy in an attempt to prevent similar incidents in the future. However, Police Scotland faced public scrutiny for their hardline stance on The Arches. This is due to the bulk of the drug seizures on the venue being carried out by The Arches own security guards and this evidence then being used against the club.
And now, Glasgow’s arts scene has taken another calamitous hit; the fire on Sauchiehall Street ravished the iconic Charles Rennie MacIntosh building, just weeks before reopening. Compounding the hit, the nearby CCA (a staple venue for both students of the Art School and established artists alike) is facing potential long-term closure. Opening in 1992, the CCA has showcased the work of several notable artists, including Frances Stark, Castillo Deball and Jeremy Millar. The venue held six main exhibitions each year alongside a subsidised (and often free) open source programme which enabled artists and groups with minimal funding to share their work with the public. Through this programme, the CCA arguably created a strong sense of community between patrons and artists by showcasing a greater variety of work. Their Cultural Tenant scheme further strengthened this bond by giving several creative organisations a place to run events or produce work.
The precarious state the CCA is in has largely been a result of lack of communication and aid from Glasgow City Council preceding the fire. Without any access to the venue, there has been no income to the centre aside from a grant from Creative Scotland which is unable to compensate for the lost revenue. Since the fire, the CCA has been forced to cancel a staggering 115 events including an exhibition which cost £22,000. Future events are also a financial risk to the CCA due to an enigmatic reopening date. Due to the lack of communication from the council, Art School staff attempted to keep CCA director Francis McKee up to date. However, this led to him receiving an optimistic reopening date of the 14th of September which has sadly fallen through after a sell-out gig had been organised. The tumultuous future of the CCA has severely affected everyone using the venue; their in-house businesses (Welcome Home and Aye Aye Books), the Cultural Tenants and artists are all unable to access the premises whilst facing mounting expenses and the issue of relocation. As of yet, the CCA is still to receive any aid from the Council’s £5,000,000 budget set aside for the fire damage.
Glasgow City Council doesn't mind flouting the city's cultural prestige to get the tourists in, but they seem to go quiet when our arts scene actually comes under threat. It has materialised that plans are in place for lucrative student flats to open up nearby the CCA. For many Glaswegians, this no doubt brings back memories of when a nice fancy hotel was unveiled to be conveniently moving in next door to The Arches weeks after they closed down. Real estate and economy growth seem to be the top priority in Glasgow at the moment with the arts scene taking its place somewhere much lower down the list. With The Arches now being home to the soulless Innis & Gunn, let’s hope a similar corporate fate doesn’t await the CCA.
In the meantime, other arts venues in Glasgow continue to put on cutting-edge shows. Check out Tramway, Tron, Project Café and Platform for upcoming events that - despite everything - are keeping the city's arts scene alive.