Stornoway arts centre under fire over Sunday opening

Campaigners want a Hebridean arts centre stripped of its public funding if it goes ahead with Sunday opening '“ after accusing its board of 'cultural vandalism' for defying strict Sabbath observance traditions on the Isle of Lewis.
An Lanntair in Stornoway staged a Sunday opening experiment between January and March to gauge public opinion.An Lanntair in Stornoway staged a Sunday opening experiment between January and March to gauge public opinion.
An Lanntair in Stornoway staged a Sunday opening experiment between January and March to gauge public opinion.

More than 250 islanders have backed an online petition condemning plans by An Lanntair, in Stornoway, to open its cinema, cafe-bar, restaurant and gallery seven days a week.

A blog post is urging protesters to lobby for the arts centre to lose its long-term backing for showing “utter disregard for the culture of the area”.

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Opponents have also taken to social media sites to make their views clear in the wake of an announcement by An Lanntair that it plans to open on Sundays “as soon as possible.”

Its board has announced the move after staging three Sunday opening pilots between January and March. It says they demonstrated “strong demand” for its cinema to open on Sundays, but has insisted existing staff will not be forced to work that day.

However the protest petition states: “It is my sincere view that An Lanntair has not well represented our local community in this matter. I have no desire to see any further erosion of our heritage and unique culture as regards a peaceful Sunday.”

A blog post by Catriona Murray accuses An Lanntair of being “complicit in sabotaging a very precious element of who we are, all in the name, not of pushing boundaries, or challenging norms as they pretend, but of appeasing a vocal minority who either understand nothing, or care nothing for the very thing which makes this place special.”

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She writes: “As a centre for arts in a minority and fragile culture such as ours undoubtedly is, can An Lanntair really look itself in the mirror and say it is doing the right thing? Of course not. This is a clear case of carry on regardless.”

Posting on the We Love Lewis and Harris Sundays Facebook page, Angus Mackay said: “The An Lanntair board have squarely set themselves against the community and yet they still seem to think that the community is bound to support them. If we show we’re willing to be treated like this and continue to support them, much worse will follow. I really don’t see how individually, or through the council as our representative body, we can continue to support An Lanntair financially.”

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Catherine Fraser added: “I think this is the wrong direction to be taking a locally and nationally-funded organisation which is very dependant on local footfall.”

Posting on another Facebook page, Christine Maclean said: “Religious differences cause wars all over the world. Let’s try and not start one here and come to an agreement that suits everyone. Surely there must be one.”

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An Lanntair receives £400,000 a year from national arts agency Creative Scotland, along with a £60,000 grant from Western Isles Council.

A spokeswoman for Creative Scotland said: “An Lanntair is a beacon for high quality performances, inclusive creative learning and nourishment for the Gaelic arts.”

A council spokesman said An Lanntair’s Sunday opening plans were a matter for its board while An Lanntair declined to comment further.