The Council, the City Art Centre and the Museum

I get asked a lot about these things so I’m making an attempt to as briefly as possible explain the last eight years of council dealings so I can refer to it when people ask. Part two: November 2014 – June 2018.

One of the people who got in touch about the arts hub for King’s Stables Road was Karl Chapman the general manager of The Usher Hall. He also mentioned he was trying to organise a meeting about Edinburgh’s music venues but was struggling to get interest. I offered to put out a date in November 2014 on social media and sure enough 100 tickets had gone in no time at all followed by more being made available. From that came Live Music Matters.

At the meeting I met a lady who was Business and Performance Manager at the council for Culture and Sport. A few months earlier the council had suggested that it was unlikely they could give me a building to house an exhibition centre for popular music but space in a council art gallery might be possible. The idea was in its infancy but Andrew Burns the council leader had taken an interest and been very helpful. 

I had mentioned it on my blog and both staff and people from the council got in touch suggesting the City Art Centre which needed a boost and had a ground floor that was greatly underused and uninviting. My idea would be just the thing to bring people in. A supportive council official arranged a meeting with somebody described as a business manager for the CAC. However after waiting almost a month for the meeting she seemed to think I wanted to sell a CD in their shop and clearly hadn’t read the introductory email properly. At that point the idea was simply to have some exhibits and Scottish music for sale. 

Anyway she got back saying no which I then mentioned on my blog. The next day I get another message from a CAC employee saying this is a great idea who said no ? It turned out to be her boss so nothing more was said.

So the next month I’m at the Usher Hall meeting speaking to the Business and Performance Manager responsible for the CAC and she thinks I have a great idea. I get an email “we’re currently looking at innovative ways to improve our services, and we’re thinking about the City Art Centre”. I will get a meeting with the Museums and Galleries Manager, Frank Little. Even better the council’s strategy and finance person will come along and they love the idea too.

Frank’s not keen. Clue is in the name. They are an “art centre”. Council strategy guy reminds Frank music is one of the arts. Frank’s not having it and suggests the Queen’s Hall. I do meet with the CEO of the Queen’s Hall Adrian Harris and he is keen but can’t do anything until the Scottish Chamber Orchestra leaves and the place is renovated which is some time away. For the record just before Adrian retired from the Queen’s Hall he phoned to say he still thought the idea would work and the new CEO is supportive too.

The council also mention that the Tron Kirk is opening as an arts market and is there any chance I will get in touch with the organiser and get involved. I do that but we’ve hit a brick wall on the exhibition idea. The Tron isn’t available for the Festival and I get offered a space in St Mary’s Street. I expected it to be quiet but thought I could push on with the exhibition centre idea and that goes well.

April 2016 and the gentleman who owns the shop has died and I’ll have to leave. It seems the right time to have a final push with a promise of Creative Scotland funding for research and development.

The day after I announce the shop is closing I get a message from Stephen Allen at the National Museum of Scotland. Can I possibly come in and chat abut a collaboration. It was hard to imagine what that could be but of course it was the Rip It Up exhibition. At that point they had no other possibility but it wasn’t confirmed. The exhibition was to be from June to November 2018 and it would then tour going to Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness. They had no material and few contacts and would I be willing to help. There was no money but they would support my ideas for a permanent exhibition, anything they were offered and couldn’t use would be forwarded to me and anything I thought of use to them I would pass on. The museum would consider purchasing items of significance.

They would put in a good word with Creative Scotland and the City Art Centre. I would help them with contact numbers and make some introductions. If anything was particularly of interest in their exhibition they would see if it was possible for it to be passed on to me afterwards. That would of course always depend on the owners but it would be a shame after all that work if something permanent wasn’t in place.

I could say I was “in talks” with the museum to give my own plans some gravity. I can tell others of the plans on a need to know basis. I don’t doubt Stephen’s sincerity at the time. I do just as instructed and simply say I’ve spoken to the museum in my blog. I get a phone call immediately from Stephen saying that the press office aren’t happy and can I change it to say I’ve spoken to museums and galleries recently. I oblige.

Creative Scotland wait until the last hour of the last day they have to say they don’t have any funds for me despite knowing of the forthcoming museum exhibition. 

The exhibition is finally confirmed just before Christmas so a researcher will be hired and things will push on. In April 2017 I’m told a researcher has been hired and can we all meet up. I actually know the researcher as an old Edinburgh Uni Potterrow indie customer. As it turns out I’m supposed to liaise with him but he’s not allowed to tell me anything !

We all meet up and discuss possible artists. Richard Jobson hasn’t been in touch they say. I message Richard and he calls them the next day despite having a gig the night before. From then on I send over lists of possible artists and help out when artists don’t reply for one reason or another. 

Meanwhile the City Art Centre finally say it will never be appropriate to give my exhibition space and immediately the Fruitmarkt Gallery offer me a pop-up for which I will always be grateful. By now I’ve made some great contacts thanks to Mike who runs the ScotsPostPunk social media sites. Simon Clegg many of whose photographs people will recognise gets in touch offering to help despite now living in Australia. He tracks down an old pal Glenn Gibson who was an NME and The Face journalist and still lives in Glasgow. Glenn has some fantastic stuff including all the Postcard memorabilia used by myself and now the museum.

With the Fruitmarket Gallery exhibition providing a focus others also were a great help. Allan Campbell who I had introduced to the museum and had managed Josef K, run a cool label, put on many great gigs and some amazing clubs helped me track down Paul Haig’s famous guitar. An article in the Evening News had led to contact from some of the Edinburgh sixties beat bands filling the last big hole in my research.

The Fruitmarket pop-up is huge success with 1,500+ people over three days and many more contacts made. Immediately I had contact from Glasgow Life which led to several offers including one from the CCA that I could still take up but none provided finance and were all temporary. Other enquiries followed from Aberdeen, Paisley, Dundee and London. No offers were forthcoming in Edinburgh. Stephen Allen had come to the last day of the exhibition and asked if I could forward a list of things that the museum should be interested in which I did. 

With interest everywhere but Edinburgh I was on the verge of looking elsewhere when it was suggested I speak to Paul Lawrence Edinburgh’s Executive Director of Place and known to like his music. We meet at the beginning of August and he offers to have a word over the City Art Centre. He arranges for me to meet Frank Little again. Frank seems genuinely keen this time and shows me the top floor of the CAC as a possibilty. Not perfect but a great space and accessible from the entrance by lift. He also suggests Trinity Apse just of the High Street but when we see it decides it won’t be suitable. 

I’m asked to put forward a proposal which quickly receives a reply that it turns out the CAC is fully booked for the next three years ! That of course wouldn’t include the top floor which is an events hire space. 

Around this time the museum had finally made its big reveal announcing the Rip It Up exhibition. This I was promised was when they would credit my help and give me something to show to potential sponsors. Stephen Allen had phoned me the morning of the news to let me know so I phoned the press office to see the embargoed press release. There was no mention of my help or plans. I’m promised there will be a drip drip of news and I’ll get my credit soon. 

Even odder the big international reveal barely makes it beyond the pages of The Evening News. The music papers aren’t told and even the Edinburgh Reporter isn’t sent the press release. January 2018 and all was meant to be in place at the museum but I’d heard they hadn’t spoken to Paul Haig though I knew they had been in touch with Malcolm Ross. This was very odd as with Edwyn Collins declining to be involved speaking to Paul was essential..

promo pic for the museum’s Rip It Up exhibition

I arrange for Paul to speak to Stephen and he suggests they use his old guitar from the Fruitmarket exhibition. Malcolm has already loaned the Orange Juice and Josef K posters from the pop-up and Glenn Gibson had loaned all the Postcard memorabilia as well as his records. I still have the guitar and suggest this will be the perfect opportunity for the promised publicity. The press office say they are too busy. Stephen says they can’t stop me mentioning it in my column so I do.

I had also been speaking to the museum’s retail manager about stock for the exhibition shop but that is another story ! However one thing he had said was that he couldn’t imagine the museum supporting any rival exhibition no matter how complementary. I get more feedback along the same lines. Even when asked about what might happen when Rip It Up finishes Stephen fails to mention my plans.

As for the City Art Centre I was prepared to offer more in rent for the top floor than they made in a year. The Fruitmarket Gallery offered a reference on the popularity and quality of their exhibition. Paul Lawrence said he would back the idea and Donald Wilson the Culture Convener said he didn’t even see a reason for it to go to committee for approval but if it did it had his full support. This is a trial there is no need for due process and procurement.

Then in February I hear from Paul with a completely different story

The Council would need to agree that the space in the CAC is to be used for alternate purposes and therefore is available to ‘the market’; We would need to run a marketing/bidding process; We would need to evaluate all bids including an assessment of detailed business plans; The Council would then determine a successful bidder based on a range of criteria.

It is likely that Donald Wilson would want significant work undertaken across the political groups before he agrees to any report.

I was also told there was no guarantee even if I was finally successful how long the arrangement would last as they were considering other options in the future. When I pointed out to Paul this completely contradicted my last meeting with Donald Wilson I was told I would find his and Donald’s thoughts were now “aligned”.

There was no “alternative purpose”. I was just offering to rent it for months rather than days. It was an offer I couldn’t possibly accept, working on something that had no guarantee of success, would not be ready in time to “complement” the museum exhibition and with no guarantee I wouldn’t be kicked out as soon as I got in. 

Several important people are mentioned here. They aren’t used to having their actions questioned and in the arts and culture sector in particular it is a sad situation that cronyism is rife but anybody who says anything is blackballed. Often people need a working relationship and can’t afford to be cut out so stay quiet.

It wasn’t easy helping the museum. I had to approach people and ask if they would get involved and look things out but could give no guarantee their time wouldn’t be wasted. The most disappointing thing of all was when Stephen said he wouldn’t contact Alan Horne the founder of Postcard Records. I’d contacted Alan via a third party before the Fruitmarket exhibition and also told him of the museum’s plans. Stephen had said he’d been advised Alan would be too difficult to deal with so had not even attempted contact. I got a nice reply from Alan thanking me for bothering to track him down and saying he was working on his own projects just now. He wished me luck and said not to rule out being involved in the future.

I received a couple more emails and in the last one he said if I thought it worthwhile I could give his details to the museum and he would speak to them. Anything from Alan would have been a major coup for the museum. It had understandably been top of the researcher’s list who I should add had long left by now. 

Sadly as I say Stephen said he didn’t want to spend time on something that might come to nothing. Used by now to the museum’s attitude I was still stunned. Alan told me he had spent time recently in a windowless loft pulling out the very things I required and I know he has been working on Paul Quinn gig footage so hopefully something will surface in the future. 

My Edinburgh Evening News column this week on the CAC, procurement and the last offer I made is here.

Just days before Rip It Up opened, and months too late to be of use, Stephen Allen finally acknowledged both the help he’d received and the previous Fruitmarket exhibition in his blog. All this is what it is. Now we move on.

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