Botanics art gallery to reopen for summer exhibition after outcry

Inverleith House was closed down suddenly by bosses at the Royal Botanic Garden in October.

Inverleith House was closed down suddenly by bosses at the Royal Botanic Garden in October.

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The Royal Botanic Gallery in Edinburgh is to reopen its art gallery for a major summer exhibition in the wake of a campaign over its sudden closure backed by Ewan McGregor, Irvine Welsh, Tracey Emin and Antony Gormley.

A four-month exhibition inspired by the collections at the attraction, to be staged at Inverleith House from July-October, has been confirmed, days after it emerged 10,000 people have backed a petition demanding a rethink.

An open letter signed by more than 200 leading cultural figures warned the closure would represent an “enormous loss to Scottish culture.”

It was also announced today that host of leading figures from the Scottish art world have joined a taskforce set up in the wake of the closure controversy.

They include Janet Archer, chief executive of Creative Scotland, Sir John Leighton, director-general of the National Galleries Scotland, Philip Long, director of the new V&A Dundee museum, Fruitmarket Gallery director Fiona Bradley, and Dame Seona Reid, former director of Glasgow School of Art.

There is no place on the Inverleith House taskforce for Paul Nesbitt, its long-serving exhibitions director. However a spokeswoman for the Botanics insisted he and other staff at the attraction would be involved with its work over the next few months.

The summer exhibition at Inverleith House is expected to be inspired by the history of the glasshouses at the Botanics, as well as its plant collections.

A spokeswoman said: “The aim is to draw together new and historical work in a range of media to generate new perspectives, provocations and reflections on the field of creative and botanical endeavour in a local, national and international context.”

Inverleith House, which was operated as a gallery by the Botanics for more than 30 years, is believed to have staged more exhibitions by Turner Prize winners and nominees than any other gallery in the UK, apart from the Tate in London.

It was closed down at less than two weeks notice in October, prompting around 700 people to turn out for a protest on the final day of public access.

Botanics chiefs insisted Inverleith House could no longer be dedicated to contemporary art due to the “inevitable financial risks attached to running a high-profile gallery.

The possibility of a reprieve emerged in November after the Scottish Government, which funds the attraction, was forced to intervene and instigated talks with senior officials.

The Botanics later agreed to set up a “short-life working group” to produce a report on its arts programme, include the potential use of Inverleith House for exhibitions in future.

The taskforce, which has been told to produce a “financially sustainable” vision, is due to report back to the trustees of the attraction by the end of June.

Mr Milne said: “The arts play an important role in our exploration of the beauty, function and power of the natural world and we look forward to establishing a more integrated and sustainable approach to our programmes, building on the many achievements of previous exhibitions and events and exploring opportunities for creative and strategic collaborations.”

Ms Archer said: “We believe there are opportunities for RBGE to develop an approach to its arts programming that continues to contribute to Scotland’s artistic and creative excellence.”