Brian Ferguson: The Arches needs urgent support

It is fair to say there is as much anxiety among Scotland's artistic community about the loss of the late licence for The Arches. Picture: John Devlin
It is fair to say there is as much anxiety among Scotland's artistic community about the loss of the late licence for The Arches. Picture: John Devlin
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SWIFT action can tackle The Arches’ club crisis, writes Brian Ferguson

I doubt very many of the generations of Glasgow clubbers who have flocked to The Arches over the last quarter of century will have heard of the Cats Awards.

But it was that event – where Scotland’s theatre critics gather to honour the best productions, writers and actors – that sprang to mind as I reflected on the precarious position the venue finds itself in.

Three years ago I watched a terrifyingly young playwright bound up on stage at The Tron to collect his honour for best new play.

Kieran Hurley’s Beats, set in the mid-1990s, when he would have been a child, captured the imagination of the judges with its look back at the impact of controversial new legislation which outlawed illegal raves across the UK. The play went on to become part of the official Scottish Government-backed showcase at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Hurley is now working on a feature film adaptation with Ken Loach’s company.

There is something both horribly ironic but also strangely apt in the fact that the show was first staged at and produced by The Arches, which now finds its future under threat after a police clampdown on drugs misuse and disorder at the venue.

There is likely to be no easy reprieve for The Arches’ nightclub operation. Any appeal may take some time to pursue and win, as the police have openly identified it as “by far” the biggest concern of any venue in the city.

It is fair to say there is as much anxiety among Scotland’s artistic community about the loss of the late licence for The Arches as there is from the thousands who flock to its club nights. As has been well-documented, income from late-night events has always subsidised the venue’s wider arts programme, renowned for the breadth and quality of its programming.

While Hurley and others have been keen to stress that the club element is a vital part of the city’s cultural scene, the loss of its theatre output in particular would be much more damaging. What should certainly not be allowed to happen is the demise of The Arches because of a wider drug-taking culture in the city.

However, if The Arches is seen by the wider arts community as being of European importance, it should not have to rely on income from club nights for survival. If it takes a full-blown crisis to secure stable funding from the Scottish Government, Creative Scotland and Glasgow City Council, then so be it.

There was no shortage of additional backing for cultural events in Glasgow, including several at The Arches, for the Commonwealth Games. The least that can be done for The Arches in the short-time is a vital rescue package while its long-term future is thrashed out.