Glasgow arts strong year a lesson for the rest

A STELLAR year for the arts in Glasgow holds lessons for the rest of the country, writes Brian Ferguson.

The SSE Hydro played a starring role by hosting many of Scotland's major events. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The SSE Hydro played a starring role by hosting many of Scotland's major events. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The SSE Hydro played a starring role by hosting many of Scotland's major events. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

AS 2014 draws to a close, there will be plenty of people in the arts world taking time to draw breath.


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In Glasgow it was hard to recall a more frenetic year – even its reign as European capital of culture in 1990, when Frank Sinatra and Luciano Pavarotti staged memorable concerts.

Major events dominated – the Commonwealth Games, the MTV Europe Music Awards, the Ryder Cup concert, and the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Awards.

The new Hydro arena, which opened its doors in September 2013, played a key role, even enjoying a starring role in the referendum campaign, hosting that memorable debate which saw 16 and 17-year-olds fill the house.

Figures released this month show that 1.4 million people came through its doors, to see the likes of Beyoncé, Prince, Kylie and Lady Gaga, and generated £130 million for the economy. Not bad for a venue which cost £125m to build.

As the new year dawns, it is worth considering not only what the city has achieved, but which lessons can be drawn from the Hydro project for elsewhere in the country.

Glasgow’s long-term cultural ambitions are bearing fruit, with the unveiling next month of new facilities – including a rooftop terrace, café and bars – at the Theatre Royal, Scottish Opera’s flagship venue, while the long-awaited extension for the Royal Concert Hall is to be ready by the summer.

None of these have been easy projects to deliver – although there were far fewer delays with the Hydro than the other two – which, along with the new Glasgow School of Art campus, can be seen as major additions to the city’s arts infrastructure.

All of these should perhaps offer some consolation to the team behind the V&A museum in Dundee, which has been pushed back to 2017 and is yet to have a fixed price attached to a scheme which has already been seven years in the planning stages.

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Arts watchers will be looking closely in the next few months for progress on the project, as well as some form of serious commitment from the Scottish Government on the long-delayed national film studio, which was backed by Creative Scotland nearly two and a half years ago. The best bet for the scheme looks to be some kind of small-scale development in an empty warehouse, like the one housing the Outlander production in Cumbernauld.

And could hopes of a new cultural quarter taking shape on Edinburgh’s long-neglected waterfront hinge on finding a new use for the “big blue shed”, a building once touted for use by the National Galleries of Scotland and set to sit vacant again after the demise of its current occupant, wave turbine manufacturer Pelamis?


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