Former SNP council chief calls for crisis summit in response to Edinburgh arts venue closures
The former leader of Edinburgh City Council has called for a crisis summit to be held to tackle the "perfect storm" that has led to the closure of the Filmhouse cinema and one of the city's leading art galleries.
Adam McVey has urged the local authority, the Scottish and UK governments, national funding organisations and business groups to work together amid growing warnings about the impact of soaring energy bills and the cost-of-living crisis on arts organisations over the next few months.
His intervention came in the wake of the loss of the Filmhouse and the closure for the rest of the year of one of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s two sites.
Mr McVey, who led an SNP coalition with Labour in the previous council administration, said the sudden closure of venues was "not just damaging to our economy and well-being, it’s striking at our identity, our DNA as a city".
He said: "We cannot let our artistic and cultural institutions simply fall. We will lose so much more than the venues and centre themselves if we fail to act – and the SNP is not prepared to allow that to happen.”
Leading cultural and business figures, including Nicola Benedetti, the new director of the Edinburgh International Festival, Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce chief executive Liz McAreavey and Essential Edinburgh chief executive Roddy Smith have also been urged to get involved.
The idea of a culture summit has already been welcomed by the Scottish Government, which has previously set alarm bells ringing across the cultural sector by warning it may have to cut £4 million from an annual culture and events budget worth £173m.
Arts agency Creative Scotland has warned it is “increasingly unviable” to leave organisations on standstill funding while they are grappling with the impact of rising coasts, lower audiences since the lifting of Covid restrictions and the impact of the soaring house bills on ticket sales".
The Centre for the Moving Image (CMI), which went into administration with the sudden closure of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the Filmhouse cinemas in Aberdeen and Edinburgh, and Creative Scotland have both described the “perfect storm” faced by arts organisations.
The CMI said it had expected its energy costs to rise by around £200,000 over the next 12 months. The National Galleries has revealed its own energy bills are expected to at least double next year and run into seven figures for the first time.
In his letter, Mr McVey said: “I know you will share my deep concern of the impact of these sad closures, as well as the obvious continued threat to our globally-celebrated artistic and cultural institutions.
“I’m calling on all relevant bodies, including yourselves, to urgently come together for a cultural summit.
“The purpose of this is to scope ongoing risks, establish coherent partnership to find tangible actions to help and save what can be saved, with an overriding purpose of retaining Edinburgh’s incredibly vibrant cultural eco-system. I would propose the summit be chaired by Creative Scotland.”
Scottish culture minister Neil Gray said: “I understand how deeply the cultural sector has been affected by rising energy costs and the cost-of-living crisis, which have come just as they are beginning to recover from the pandemic.
“The Scottish Government is committed to the long-term recovery of the sector and we welcome the suggestion of a summit or round table as a useful next step.”
City council leader Cammy Day: “Like many across the city, I was very saddened to hear that the National Galleries’ Modern Two has had to close until 2023, especially following so closely to the recent closure of the Filmhouse.
"These are, of course, two important culture venues in the city and it is a priority for us all to investigate how we can support the struggling culture sector.
“We are well aware of the seriousness of the situation and, as a council, are already in contact with partners at Creative Scotland and Scottish Government exploring solutions to ensure the future of important spaces like this in the city.”
Creative Scotland chief executive Iain Munro said: “We are in discussions already with the Scottish Government, City of Edinburgh Council, Aberdeen City Council, the CMI administrators and other stakeholders with an interest in possible futures for the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the Filmhouse, the Belmont cinema in Aberdeen, and cultural cinema programmes in each city. These discussions are ongoing and we will say more when there are developments to report.
“More broadly, Scotland’s culture and creative sector continues to operate in an extremely challenging and continuously shifting environment.
“A combination of uncertainty over future budgets for culture, rising costs and falling income from other sources, is placing unprecedented pressures on the sector.
“We continue to make the case to the Scottish Government and partners such as Edinburgh City Council for continued investment in arts and culture and the value that this brings to all our lives and Scotland’s reputation internationally.”