THE director of Edinburgh’s flagship contemporary art gallery has warned its very future is “at risk” unless it is able to carry out a multi-million pound revamp in the next few years.
The Fruitmarket, next to Waverley Station, is set to launch a major fundraising appeal to help pay for a £6 million overhaul which would bring its outdated facilities up to scratch, amid warnings it is being left behind by rival galleries across Britain.
The gallery, on Market Street, faces closure for more than a year while a planned revamp overseen by leading architect Gareth Hoskins, who was behind the transformation of the old Royal Museum building, is carried out. If the funding can be secured, it is hoped work will start after the 2016 Edinburgh Art Festival.
Among the artists to stage work at the Fruitmarket over the last decade have been Jeff Koons, Martin Creed, Nathan Coley, Lucy Skaer, Callum Innes, Christine Borland, Toby Paterson and Douglas Gordon.
Extra storey wanted
Edinburgh’s planners are being asked to allow the gallery to build an extra storey on top of the existing building - which dates back to 1938 and was extensively refurbished 20 years ago - including adding on a roof terrace offering visitors spectacular views across the city.
The existing building would also be extended out on either side to create new stairwells and see lifts installed for the first time to help safely transport expensive works of art around the building.
Extra gallery space would also be created with the removal of a central stairwell, where large works of art currently have to be carried up and down, past customers in the gallery cafe, while proper climate control facilities will be installed in the building for the first time.
Director Fiona Bradley, who has been at the helm of the Fruitmarket for the last decade, said the current building was “no longer fit for purpose” and needed “urgent attention” to ensure it had a future, saying it may no longer be able to attract significant works on loan unless its facilities were overhauled.
A “vision for the future” bulletin due to be posted on the gallery’s website within the next few days states: “The Fruitmarket is locally, nationally and internationally regarded as one of a network of galleries exhibiting the very best modern and contemporary art.
“However this position is under threat. Although internationally significant, successful and popular now, the Fruitmarket risks being left behind as our collaborators and competitors invest in their buildings.”
Creative Scotland is being asked to fund the planned revamp to the tune of £2 million, while the city council has already agreed to waive the rent it charges the gallery while the revamp is being carried out.
Ms Bradley said the Fruitmarket’s project would be the most significant addition to the visual arts scene in Scotland since the opening of the Dundee Contemporary Arts centre in 1999.
She added: “We appointed Gareth Hoskins to come up with a concept design, which we presented to Creative Scotland in the summer, and we’re currently waiting on a decision on a funding application from them next month.
“We’ve costed the designs that Gareth has come up with at £6 million to do what needs to be done here. In the scheme of other people’s visions for projects, I don’t think it is a lot of money, although we don’t know at the moment what we may have to raise ourselves.
“The ceiling on Creative Scotland’s funding is £2 million for each application, although they’ve been aware for the need for change in our building for some time.
“It’s worth pointing out that there’s not really been public investment in new contemporary art facilities in Edinburgh over the last decade or so. There has been investment in the visual arts, but not the kind of thing we do.
“It does feel that we’re at something of a crucial point right now. We’ve built up an audience, we’ve built a programme and the very best international and Scottish artists are keen to show with us. No-one has ever turned down an invitation to show work at the Fruitmarket, but I’m beginning to worry that they might start to.
“Should we be successful in our application to Creative Scotland, it will kick-start a campaign to develop the Fruitmarket into the world-class facility it has the potential to be and that Scotland’s internationally successful art scene deserves.”
Leading figures from the nationwide art scene have recorded tributes and warnings that the Fruitmarket, which has been a visual arts hub since 1974, desperately needs overhauled for a special promotional video to be launched this week.
Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, said: “The Fruitmarket is a gem, amazingly important in Scotland, hugely important for the UK, and is also really quite unlike any other gallery running at the moment in the UK.
“The building has huge potential, but at the moment it’s a mess and it has really outlived its life. It probably worked when it was first remade 20 years ago but now the gallery has grown and the whole building now needs a rethink.”
As well as waiving its rent while any refurbishment work is ongoing, the city council said it had also offered the Fruitmarket an entire floor to use in its own flagship gallery, the City Art Centre, on the other side of Market Street, so that it can continue to stage exhibitions.
Richard Lewis, Edinburgh City Council’s culture leader, said: “The Fruitmarket Gallery is one of the foremost contemporary art galleries in the city and the proposals to refurbish the Market St building sound exciting and if they do go ahead it will only add to the strength of the arts and festival scene within the city.
“We will continue to work with the gallery and support their proposals however best we can. Even in a climate of squeezed budgets, it’s crucially important that we continue to invest in the city’s cultural infrastructure and maintain Edinburgh’s position as the one of the world’s great cultural and festival cities.”
Creative Scotland confirmed another round of grants under its large capital investment fund are due to be announced next month.
REVIEWS FROM THE FRUITMARKET IN 2013