Phil Miller and Brian Donnelly

HUNDREDS of campaigners yesterday massed to protest at the closure of one of Scotland’s most acclaimed contemporary art galleries.

More than 700 protesters gathered in the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh to voice their opposition at the closure of the much-loved Inverleith House on Sunday.

The Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh (RBGE) decided to close the gallery as a space for art shows after 30 years, with its final show closing yesterday.

Read more: Petition to save Inverleith House launched as dismay over gallery closure grows

The move has angered many of the country’s leading artists, with Richard Wright, the Glasgow-based winner of the 2009 Turner Prize, describing the closure as “sickening” and represents an “act of vandalism.”

But bizarrely, the publicity has sparked huge interest in the venue. It is understood that there were around 920 visitors to Inverleith House yesterday compared to 150 on a typical Sunday.

Management at Invernleith House have stressed that they will continue to talk about the venue’s use as a space for art and exhibits.

Arts funders Creative Scotland have expressed great disappointment at the decision, especially as part of an £80,000 funding boost given to the RBGE in 2015 was for a study to make the gallery “sustainable” until 2021.

Nearly 5,000 people have signed a petition urging the RBGE to change its mind and many supporters gathered at Inverleith House yesterday in a show of support.

Mr Wright said: “This is a sickening development. The demise of Inverleith House as a centre for contemporary art will be an enormous loss to Scottish culture.

Read more: Petition to save Inverleith House launched as dismay over gallery closure grows

“I fear that RBGE have no idea just what an extreme act of vandalism this represents. From an international point of view Inverleith House stands on its own.

“There is no other public visual arts venue in Scotland that has anywhere near its status or reputation. It is a jewel and its loss will be deeply felt in places far from here.”

Artist Ross Sinclair, who is also Reader at Glasgow School of Art, was one of the 700 who had attended yesterday’s demonstration.

He said: “It would be a crying shame if it falls by the wayside.”

Duncan Thomson, former Keeper of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery applied to be the first keeper of Inverleith, but never got the post.

He said on Sunday: “It would be a sad loss. We have seen some great examples of modern art here.”

The Garden’s Regius Keeper, Simon Milne, said the RBGE cannot afford to run the space as a gallery any more and the Gardens have to concentrate on their core concerns of botany and horticulture.

Read more: Petition to save Inverleith House launched as dismay over gallery closure grows

The final show ever is likely to be I Still Believe in Miracles, which celebrated 30 years of art shows at the house.

Inverleith House attracted 20,963 visits in 2015, compared to the 836,755 visits to the Garden. In 2014, 20,504 visited Inverleith House, compared to 806, 810 visits to the Garden.

Mr Wright, who won the Turner Prize in 2009, added, on the gallery’s curator Paul Nesbitt: “Paul Nesbitt’s enormous personal contribution to this situation has been beyond price. His personal vigour and infectious belief has been defying the impossible for 30 years.”

Graham Fagen, another leading Scottish artist who represented Scotland at the last Venice Biennale, the world’s biggest visual art festival, said: “Perhaps more importantly, Inverleith House is a vital venue for international contemporary art and losing that is a loss to Scotland. Its closure will have an impact on art students and art education.

““Hopefully the public feeling expressed through the petition may make them at least reconsider.”

An RBGE spokesman said: “After considerable consideration the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) has accepted that, in the interests of prioritising its core mission To explore, conserve and explain the world of plants for a better future, it must be pragmatic about the overall diversity of its wider commitments.”