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Arts venues face best of times and worst of times

It is a tale of two cities, and two arts venues in them facing very different futures.

In Edinburgh, a once-powerful force within theatre and a crucible for some of Scotland’s top actors and directors, is on the brink of losing its home.

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Meanwhile in Glasgow, an up-and-coming hub for the land’s brightest artists and musicians is on the cusp of moving from being an underground secret to a major arts centre, fuelled by support from Turner prize-nominated artists such as Jim Lambie, and Hollywood actors such as Robert Carlyle.

Edinburgh’s Theatre Workshop has revealed it is to move out of its home of more than 30 years on Hamilton Place, where the likes of Trainspotting actor Ewen Bremner and Tron Theatre director Andy Arnold got their first big breaks.

The company said upkeep of the building, believed to be £100,000 a year, has proved prohibitive.

Director Robert Rae pointed to the decision by the Scottish Arts Council (SAC) not to award the workshop foundation status in 2006 as the beginning of the end for Theatre Workshop having a permanent home.

“The Scottish Arts Council has been sending mixed messages,” said Rae. “At one point they were saying we don’t want you to have a base but take your work on tour nationally, and then they say we don’t want you to lose the building and for it go out of use. Well then, who is going to pay for it?”

Theatre Workshop receives funding from both the SAC and Edinburgh City Council. The arts council said it had provided more than £260,000 of funding to Theatre Workshop since 2006.

Under Rae’s stewardship, Theatre Workshop concentrated on working with disabled performers and including traditionally marginalised communities, such as refugees and asylum seekers, in its work. Its most recent notable production was the acclaimed Trouble Sleeping, a film set amongst asylum seekers in Edinburgh.

Rae added: “It’s a lovely, brilliant theatre and people love coming into it. People felt very comfortable in the space, such as disabled performers and the refugee community. They saw it as their space. So that is a worry in losing it, losing that sense of ownership that exists amongst people who don’t usually get involved in the arts. It’s a big loss. But there isn’t much we can do.”

Edinburgh City Council, which owns the building, has confirmed it will not maintain the building as an arts venue. Instead it is looking at housing one of its departments in the space.

Theatre Workshop, therefore, is currently looking for a new home to house its three staff. Three have been made redundant in the restructuring. Despite losing its building, Rae said Theatre Workshop is on the brink of its biggest-ever project, another film.

“We are optimistic about the future,” said Rae. “More of the resources we get will now go into projects, instead of a building.”

But the loss of a vital theatre space in Edinburgh has dismayed many within the arts. Scottish playwright Colin Mortimer was the chair of Theatre Workshop in the 1990s. He said: “I know the good work that they have done and I find it really very sad.”

The city council’s decision not to prop up Theatre Workshop is weakening Edinburgh’s theatre scene, according to Adrian Harris, chief executive of the Queen’s Hall and director of Theatre Workshop between 1985 and 1995. “It’s a shame the space is being lost to the city,” he said.

Meanwhile, 45 miles west in Glasgow, Studio Warehouse – until now a hidden gem for those in the know, hidden down a nondescript street – will burst onto the arts scene on Thursday when it hosts a fundraising dinner to raise cash to turn it from a fringe venue into a major location for the city’s creatives.

Tickets are not cheap at £200 per person, but tables will be hosted by supporters of the studio including Carlyle, Scottish supermodel Lauren Tempany, artist Martin Boyce, and fashion designers Deryck Walker and Pam Hogg. Guests will also receive a limited edition artwork – masks made out of old LP sleeves – made by Boyce and Turner Prize nominated artist Jim Lambie. Tickets are still available.

If it meets the target of £25,000, the venue, a warehouse just off the Clydeside Expressway, will be able to plug leaks in the roof, build a stage area and six rehearsal spaces for bands, create a dedicated visual arts area, and apply for a full entertainment licence.

Currently 120 artists, designers, musicians and creatives are housed in Studio Warehouse, but only ad hoc events can be staged. With the extra funding a regular programme will be possible.

The brains behind Studio Warehouse – a man who goes only by the name Mutley – has run the venue as a secret well-kept from the general public for the past six years.

He said: “It is a great space. It has a real underground feel to it. It used to be used as a rave venue before I got involved. That’s something we wanted to move away from, to change that direction. We’re hoping that getting the venue up and running will act as a catalyst, not just for music, but for fashion, design and product launches. But it is really important to make it more accessible to the general public, bring it into the mainstream.”

Studio Warehouse is starting to play a major role in Glasgow’s creative scene, and major arts figures say it could do much more if it raises the money.

“I really like their energy and what they are doing,” said Boyce, who represented Scotland at this year’s Venice Biennale. “They have a great attitude about making things happen in the city. It really reminds me of Transmission gallery and what it did. So I’m more than happy to support them in any way I can.”

He added that Studio Warehouse is vital as the council has fallen short: “Some of the major art institutions have been lacking. I don’t think it is the fault of the curators, but goes right up to the direction of the city council. They lack the clout that some of their European counterparts would have.

“It was something that places like Tramway and CCA did have in the late 1990s, but has really fallen away. So ultimately places like Studio Warehouse have sprung up to fill the cultural gaps, create a space for people to see things, meet each other and talk to each other. It is crucial to the dynamics of the city.”

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