Leaps of imagination worth exploring over use of Edinburgh arts venues during energy crisis

It has been such a tumultuous time in Edinburgh of late that I have taken to steeling myself for the unexpected each day.

The sudden closure of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the Filmhouse cinema were a wake-up call that rising energy bills were likely to impact significantly on life in the city.

Since then, both the National Galleries of Scotland and Dance Base, Scotland’s national dance centre, have revealed cost-cutting measures. In the case of the former, this has involved the temporary of closure of its Modern Two gallery for the rest of the year.

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Dance Base has been exploring the possibility of “repurposing” much of its building in the Grassmarket as part of its own survival plan.

The City Art Centre is one of the main council-run galleries and museums in Edinburgh. Greg Macvean
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Other building-based cultural organisations are almost facing grim outlooks due to reduced audience numbers compared to pre-pandemic figures, slow advance ticket sales and their own soaring energy bills.

Against, this backdrop, it was intriguing to hear council leader Cammy Day declare the city’s museums, galleries and other venues could become used as “warm and welcome” refuges over the winter.

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The idea was first suggested for libraries and community centres by a couple of councillors back in August, amid calls for the council to “set the tone for other organisations to look at their capacity to do similar things”.

Now Cllr Day has revealed the city is “closely exploring” the idea of cultural venues being used to provide spaces where people feel “safe, warm and at ease”, while accessing support and advice to help “alleviate food and fuel poverty”.

The City Art Centre is one of the main council-run galleries and museums in Edinburgh. Picture: Jon Savage

The council certainly has a plentiful supply of venues, from the City Chambers, the City Centre, the Usher Hall on Lothian Road, the Assembly Rooms and Lauriston Castle. Other venues are awaiting refurbishment, include the old Royal High School, the King’s Theatre and Leith Theatre. Not so long ago, venues like the EICC and the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston became temporary Covid vaccination centres.

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Exactly how practical it will be for any of the above to become “warm banks” remains to be seen, especially those with busy schedules of advance bookings.

But in a city where the previously unimaginable has already happened in recent months, every effort should be made to explore how leaps of imagination could become a force for real good.

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