It is no great surprise that there has been renewed interest in the permanent Scottish music exhibition centre I have been working on for the last three years, given all the publicity for the opening of the National Museum of Scotland’s Rip It Up exhibition.
It has certainly helped to focus minds on the fact that a permanent centre would be desirable given Rip It Up finishes in November but it is also a benchmark by which I can explain how things will be different. To be honest it will be very different indeed involving a lot more bands and labels and, while Rip It Up nodded to the odd record shop or photographer, the ScotPop MEC will involve many more as well as venues and clubs. There will also be a lot more artwork from record sleeves and posters to badges and t-shirts.
Now anybody who has been to the museum exhibition will already be thinking, given that had a decent amount of space dedicated to it, where on earth do I plan to base the centre? The answer we have come back to over and over again is the City Art Centre. For those wondering what the museum’s budget was, the answer is several hundred thousand pounds and yes we’ve managed to get so far only because I have funded it myself with just a few very kind donations and the help of others. Only a few people are aware of exactly how much has been achieved.
Right at the beginning I was asked to speak to the City Art Centre by staff and council officials who thought it was exactly what was needed to reverse what was a very obvious and well-documented decline in fortunes. I’ve been back and forth with support from a variety of important people but they always find a reason to say no. At one point they didn’t even try. “We’re fully booked for the next three years.” The next week a friend of a friend was offered a variety of times and spaces if he paid them.
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I offered them more money for the top floor they hire out than they had ever made in a year and, backed by Paul Lawrence, the executive director of Place, and Donald Wilson, the culture convener, that looked promising but I was told it would have to go through a change of use, be offered on procurement and there would be no guarantee of how long it would be available.
Procurement is a method sometimes used to block an idea. You can have an idea and make a very good offer but they will say they need to offer it to everybody and see if they can do better. Only that isn’t exactly true. Any idea can go ahead as a trial without any recourse to procurement and a trial was exactly what I was proposing. The councillors I spoke to didn’t even think the rental of the space for months rather than days needed committee approval. It is an odd situation to have so much support but also be blocked at every turn.
I made one final offer this week. The Market Café operators at the City Art Centre had left under a cloud, having failed to deliver almost everything they had promised under the procurement process. Benugo, who do an excellent job in other Edinburgh attractions, had been drafted in temporarily. There is a dreadful mural that has suffered damage but is protected at the CAC and can’t be removed. However it could have plasterboard put in front and somebody had kindly offered to do this, meaning the walls could be used for display. I offered to work with the incumbents or another top operator to make it a fantastic café and exhibition space as a trial for the rest of the year. Ideally if I could be given the stairwell next to the café and the room above on the first floor as further display space then it would integrate the café into the rest of the centre, something that had always been desirable but never achieved.
However I was quickly told that the space given to Benugo temporarily could not be temporarily given to me as it would need to go through procurement. To be honest by now it reminds me of Father Ted priming Father Jack with “that would be an ecumenical matter” only now everything is “a procurement matter”.
The City Art Centre is a fantastic space criminally underutilised and to be honest I could say a lot more having seen all the figures from footfall to income and expenses. Speaking to senior council officials they don’t argue. Understandably the hierarchy there aren’t happy with criticism but ideas have been blocked – and not just mine –for many years now. None of their peers understand or have an explanation. In a final irony outside the first floor room I had hoped for the floor is currently strewn with pieces of plastic. This piece of art is to remind you not to throw plastic in the ocean.
Whether it has more merit than the legacy of Scottish music – that would be an artistic matter!