Scotland's oldest commercial art gallery bought by staff

The Scottish Gallery – which describes itself as Scotland’s oldest commercial art gallery – says it has strengthened its long-term outlook by moving to employee ownership.

MD Christina Jansen saw the opportunity for continuity with the deal. Picture: Ian Rutherford.
MD Christina Jansen saw the opportunity for continuity with the deal. Picture: Ian Rutherford.

The arts venue in Edinburgh has traded continually since 1842, and will be acquired by an employee ownership trust (EOT) as of next month, marking the latest in a variety of ownership models it has adopted over the years.

MD Christina Jansen with advice from Carole Leslie from employment ownership specialist Ownership Associates saw the opportunity for both continuity and ownership transformation. Jansen said: “I am thrilled to be able to make this announcement alongside my fellow directors and wonderful team here, and to reassure all our artists and stakeholders about our commitment to the future.”

Shareholders, including gallery director Guy Peploe who has served 35 years with the company, agreed to sell to the trust, “ensuring that The Scottish Gallery has a stable, Scottish-based owner as well as continuity of management and all the benefits of employee ownership”.

Peploe said: “I look forward to many more years of involvement in a future-proof structure that should see The Scottish Gallery past its bicentenary.” He also credited chairman Will Whitehorn, who is also chairman of the Scottish Event Campus and deputy chairman of Stagecoach, as being the “architect” of the project and “acting in the interests of the company, the shareholders, the staff, our heritage and our future”.

Leslie, who helped navigate the transition process, said selling to an individual or corporate shareholder could have been the easiest option for the gallery.

“However, Guy Peploe and his fellow directors were keen to find a succession solution that secured the future of the gallery for the long term. By selling to the employees, this iconic Scottish institution will continue to bring pleasure to locals and visitors for many generations to come.”

Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS) – the arm of Scottish Enterprise that promotes collaborative and employee ownership models – provided a business succession review and employee ownership feasibility study.

CDS boss Clare Alexander said: “Statistics consistently demonstrate that employee-owned businesses benefit from higher levels of engagement and enhanced employee wellbeing, which can increase productivity and drive growth. The new structure marks a significant milestone in the gallery’s long history, and we wish the team every success for the future.”

The gallery – which is registered as Aitken Dott – joins around 110 employee-owned companies operating in Scotland, with about 7,500 employee-owners generating a combined turnover in the region of £950 million.

Legal services were provided by Douglas Roberts of Lindsays, while Bank of Scotland came up with a funding package to support the deal.

Stuart McNaughton, relationship manager at Bank of Scotland, said: “The Scottish Gallery is a lynchpin of Edinburgh’s vibrant and internationally renowned art community. We’re proud to support a shift in ownership model that safeguards its heritage and puts employees at the heart of its future.

“Employee ownership is gaining in popularity and the gallery views the model as a perfect fit. This agreement means the site will continue to provide a platform for Scottish creatives while employees share in its success.”

The Scottish Gallery was established in Edinburgh's South St David Street by Aitken Dott as Gilders, Framers, and Artists’ Colourmen, also exhibiting and selling work by contemporary artists in Scotland. As its operations grew, a larger site was found in Castle Street in 1860 and a dedicated gallery space opened up in 1897 as The Scottish Gallery.

It has been on Dundas Street since 1992, specialising in national and international ceramics, glass, jewellery, metalwork, sculpture and textiles with a strong international export market.

Current exhibitions include a retrospective from Victoria Crowe, art from Rebecca Collins and jewellery from Jackie Lillie - while forthcoming exhibitions including work from Kate Downie, and recent Glasgow School of Art graduate Hannah Mooney who was awarded the Fleming-Wyfold Bursary in 2018.

The gallery also announced contemporary object specialist Kirsty Sumerling joining the board of directors, having been with the organisation since 2014.

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