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INSIDE TRACK: Hope for future of some of our finest display spaces

It is emerging that, slowly but surely, there is some hope for the future of one of Scotland's best, but at present empty and closed, galleries, the McLellan Galleries in Glasgow.

You may have read our report in The Herald yesterday that the Glasgow International Festival of Contemporary Art (GI), under its enterprising new artistic director Sarah McCrory, will use the B-listed galleries in Sauchiehall Street in April as the venue for four shows from April 4 to 21.

These galleries, in the centre of Glasgow, are, as this column has mentioned before, some of the finest display spaces in Scotland. But they are, usually, disused and have been for some time.

Built in 1856, and in use for 150 years, the McLellan Galleries in Sauchiehall Street are usually shut. One wonders what their founder, the coach builder, councillor and influential patron of the arts, Archibald McLellan, would think of such a civic amenity, built for the arts, being allowed to lie empty.

But plans are afoot. The use of the galleries by GI is one thing but I understand another major festival also wanted to use the venue for an opening party. For one reason or another, this did not happen. I also hear a major international festival, based outside the UK, is interested in using the galleries for a show. It remains to be seen whether the galleries will be used as part of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games cultural festival, or more generally as a venue during that period.

The Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts (RGI), which used the venue for its annual show last year to great effect (at a cost of £100,000 to itself) is diligently pursuing the council over the long term future of the venue. Its efforts are going to lead, finally, to an official "options appraisal" of the building, which will hopefully give some idea of what the future holds for the building (as well as a valuation).

The galleries situation is anomalous. Galleries and museums in Glasgow are run by Glasgow Life, the body which oversees the Burrell Collection, Kelvingrove, the Riverside and others but the McLellan Galleries are not one of these properties; nor does Glasgow Life show any interest in taking them on board.

The owner is Glasgow City Council through its body, City Property. Whether the council really wants to own them forever, or whether a long-term renter can be found, remains open to question. Right now, they are "not for sale". And the council is instituting changes in how it deals with the venue.

I am told that, due to a recent rise in interest in the galleries from "a number of organisations", both the council and City Property are "formalising" a clear process for leasing the building on a temporary basis, "while long term options are considered".

A spokesman told me: "This will include a pack of information for potential tenants to highlight the physical constraints and risks in the building as well as some of the costs for which they will be responsible. It will allow interested parties to make an informed decision on whether or not to proceed and will also help protect the building itself."

So: some progress.

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