Arts world needs to make money to survive in real one – Kevin Buckle

I was shocked this week to see that Edinburgh council had almost tripled the rent of the Stills Gallery at the bottom of Cockburn Street. A petition had been set up and yes that confirmed “This year we face an almost trebling of our rent, from £16,000 a year to £47,000, which poses a huge threat to our future”.

Saturday, 20th April 2019, 6:00 am
Stills director Ben Harman celebrating the gallerys 40th anniversary in 2017. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Even by council standards this seemed harsh but also on reflection the rent that had been paid for over two decades seemed far too low. The initial low rent was explained by the major investment the gallery had put into the building when taking it over in 1994 but still something didn’t seem right.

It isn’t for the council’s estates department to subsidise the arts, as I have learnt from my own experience. Their job is to achieve the market rent and then yes there are ways of that rent being paid that might involve grants from elsewhere or indeed other council departments.

There was nothing for it but to contact the council. Despite the relevant person being on holiday I got a reply quickly and indeed things were not quite as clear cut as the reports had made out. This year Stills actually faces a rise in rent to £23,000 because the council had agreed to stagger the increase over five years.

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The Killers will make an appearance on Kevin's playlist. Picture: Getty

The following year would be £29,000 with further increases over the next two years until the full £47,000 – that it was clearly implied in the petition would be due immediately – would come into force in year five. This was a very different situation from every piece I had read, though after my call the council then clearly made sure the media had the full details.

Speaking in general, my own dealings with arts organisations have revealed a huge difference in attitude from those who make the most of social media and do their best to raise funds via sales and other avenues to those who simply think they have a right to grants to cover their overheads. Worst of all are those arts snobs that feel making money is something they simply should not be asked to do.

Clearly the situation at the Stills Gallery needs looking at but the council seems to have been very fair in the relatively slow increase in rent, giving plenty of time for other sources of income to be found. I’m not quite sure what the petition, which appears to be official, is trying to achieve as the council will not change their mind and indeed shouldn’t or they would be open to dozens of other claims from their tenants asking for similar treatment.

While I’ve had dealings with those nearby in the Fruitmarket Gallery, which has always seemed very well run, and the City Art Centre, which is a goldmine the council seems unable or unwilling to mine, my sole dealing with Stills Gallery was to pay for the PA for Godspeed You Black Emperor! in 1998, so I have no idea what options they may look at but I am sure there is a lot of goodwill towards them and a plan to cope with the increased rent would make more sense than a petition.

Somebody told me to compile a mall playlist

As part of Waverley Mall’s move towards supporting arts and culture they have looked at the playlist currently provided by others which if you work there can sometimes seem to consist of nothing more than Prince’s 1999 and Rag’n’Bone Man’s Human. All the businesses were asked to suggest artists and the overall feel was to support Scottish music.

However as the playlist can be up to 500 songs it was no simple task. On the basis that somebody who owns a record shop should have some idea about these things I’ve been asked to come up with an Avalanche playlist and as ever will seek to take an unbiased look at what will work best, understanding that the “miserable boy indie” we are so well known for may not be the feel a shopping mall is aiming for.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I could find some upbeat tunes from Withered Hand and The Twilight Sad though anything by Arab Strap or Aidan Moffat would need to be carefully vetted. Aidan did a great song with Bill Wells about the demise of the high street which I’ll definitely save for a different occasion.

Confronted by such a task I will be taking to social media for some help and there will be an opportunity to give a few smaller local bands a chance to have a song included.

It won’t all be Scottish so expect to hear The Killers’ Somebody Told Me and The Pixies’ Monkey Gone To Heaven alongside The Waterboys’ Whole of the Moon, Edwyn Collins’ A Girl Like You and The Shop Assistants’ Safety Net.

Dogrel worthy of your attention

Many record shops still have an album of the week but I’ve always had a policy when asked what is good out this week of saying nothing when that is the case. Not the best sales ploy I admit but we would support albums we did consider worthy of people’s attention for months and sometimes years,

Such an album came out this week by Dublin’s Fontaines D.C. I’ll be recommending Dogrel as long as people are asking for good albums. While others they have been compared to sing about politics and good causes all the songs on the album are about people and personal experiences and very much remind me of an album I’ve been recommending since 1995 – Heartworm by Whipping Boy who just happen to also be from Dublin.

The Fall are an obvious reference point and they share a label with current favourites IDLES. Shouty post-punk is not a description I’m particularly fond of but one the media has adopted and certainly among their contemporaries they are at the very top of the pile.