Why Summerhall loss would be as disastrous for Scottish culture as demise of The Arches

Scottish theatre veteran Andy Arnold calls for venue to be saved

One of Scotland's leading theatre-makers has warned that the loss of Edinburgh arts centre Summerhall would be as disastrous as the demise of The Arches in Glasgow.

Andy Arnold, who ran The Arches for 17 years and was artistic director at The Tron Theatre in Glasgow until last year, has called on the Scottish Government, Creative Scotland and the city council to intervene to try to secure the future of Summerhall.

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The complex has been a cornerstone of the cultural life of Edinburgh since it started hosting Fringe shows in 2011.

Summerhall has been hosting cultural shows and events since 2011.Summerhall has been hosting cultural shows and events since 2011.
Summerhall has been hosting cultural shows and events since 2011.

It went on to become one of the festival’s most important venues, as well as a year-round arts centre now home to more than 110 small businesses and organisations.

It emerged last month that the multi-arts complex had been put up for sale by the family trust which acquired the site from Edinburgh University.

Selling agents have suggested that it could be turned into student housing, offices or a boutique hotel by a new buyer.

However Summerhall founder Robert McDowell, who was unable to stop his brothers putting the building up for sale, and the venue’s chief executive, Sam Gough, hope its new owners will invest in the existing complex and ensure its “long-term survival” as a cultural centre.

Andy Arnold was given an 'exceptional contribution' honour at the annual  Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland ceremony in Glasgow. Picture: Infinite Blue DesignsAndy Arnold was given an 'exceptional contribution' honour at the annual  Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland ceremony in Glasgow. Picture: Infinite Blue Designs
Andy Arnold was given an 'exceptional contribution' honour at the annual Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland ceremony in Glasgow. Picture: Infinite Blue Designs

Mr Arnold, who ran Edinburgh's Theatre Workshop in the 1980s, was speaking after being honoured at the annual Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland in recognition of his “exceptional contribution” to Scottish theatre.

He expressed fears over the prospect of widespread funding cuts affecting the Scottish theatre industry later this year with Creative Scotland due to make crucial decisions on applications for long-term support.

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He told The Scotsman: "I was really when shocked when I heard Summerhall was up for sale.

"It’s such an iconic arts venue for the city that it would be a disaster it is was sold off. It would be as big a loss for Edinburgh as The Arches was in Glasgow.

Edinburgh arts centre and Fringe venue Summerhall has been put up for sale.Edinburgh arts centre and Fringe venue Summerhall has been put up for sale.
Edinburgh arts centre and Fringe venue Summerhall has been put up for sale.

“Summerhall really is the main venue at the Fringe for so many theatre companies who just can’t afford to go elsewhere.

"It does incredibly good deals which allow young theatre companies to put on work, and also has artists studios and exhibition space. It’s a brilliant place.”Mr Arnold suggested Creative Scotland and the city council had effectively abandoned The Arches after it was plunged into a financial crisis when it lost its late licence in the wake of concerns over drug and alcohol-related problems at club nights, with the whole venue eventually went into administration.

He said: “The Arches was so important to young theatre-makers in Glasgow and it was a great loss to the city. I felt there should have been a strategy to get it going again.

"There must be some way of the city council, Creative Scotland or the Scottish Government keeping Summerhall going as a public building.”

Edinburgh arts venue Summerhall has been put up for sale. Picture: Mihaela BodlovicEdinburgh arts venue Summerhall has been put up for sale. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic
Edinburgh arts venue Summerhall has been put up for sale. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic

Mr Arnold, who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the treatment of the arts in Scotland in recent, has been recognised for his services to the industry at a time of growing uncertainty for venues and companies.

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