THE FUTURE of one of the UK’s leading photographic galleries, the Stills gallery in Edinburgh, has been thrown into doubt by major rise in its rent from the city’s council.

Stills, which since 1977 has been a major gallery and work place for the art of photography, is facing an almost trebling of its rent, from £16,000 to £47,000 a year over five years.

The gallery, whose exhibitions include some of the biggest names in photography, including Man Ray, Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, among others, has also faced a cut in funding from the council.

Stills rents a space from the City of Edinburgh council in Cockburn Street, in the city centre, and has been in a central location since it was established.

However it is possible that the pressure of the significant rent rise on the gallery’s finances may force it to look elsewhere.

In 2018, Stills became part of the core network of arts companies and institutions funded by Creative Scotland, the national arts funder.

A bid for £50,000 of funding from the city’s own grants was rejected, the gallery being informed on March 26 that it had instead been given a grant of just over £16,000, a 1% reduction on its 2018/19 level.

However it is the rent hike in particular that deeply concerns the gallery: the eventual £31,000 increase combined with the grant cut is a double blow to the gallery.

The director of the gallery, Ben Harman, said: “We fully understand the financial pressures that the Council face but we feel strongly that Stills’ rent and grant situation is an anomaly that needs to be addressed.

“The increase in rent and decrease in grant funding undermines the value of Stills and presents a major risk to the delivery of our work, something that will have a negative impact on the visual arts ecosystem in Scotland and on the ever-increasing audiences for photography.

“As recent cultural developments in the city have demonstrated, [City of Edinburgh Council] have a good track record of embedding cultural organisations into their development plans to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

“We are keen to continue to explore the ways in which we can work together to resolve this situation with CEC.”

This week, the gallery is opening its latest exhibition, Ambit, a show celebrating new ways of making photographs in Scotland, featuring work by Kieran Dodds, Brittonie Fletcher, Alex Hall, Morwenna Kearsley, Mhairi Law and Frances Scott.

The show is collaboration with Streetlevel Photoworks of Glasgow, Scotland’s other major photographic gallery and centre.

Mr Harman noted the historic links between Edinburgh and the art of photography: the photographic pioneers David Hill and Robert Adamson lived and worked in Edinburgh in the 19th century.

The City of Edinburgh Council has recently backed major art gallery schemes, notably the new Collective Gallery in the Royal Observatory on Calton Hill, and helped enable the expansion planned for the Fruitmarket Gallery.

Mr Harman said the city centre location is crucial to the success of the gallery, which also offers open access photographic production facilities, which is open to the public at subsidised rates.

It launched in 2018 the Stills School, an education project for disadvantage young people.

One in four visitors, he said, were drop-in visitors to the gallery, which lies on an historic steeply rising street between Waverley Station and the Royal Mile.

He said: “Since Stills was founded in 1977 it has been located in the centre of Edinburgh.

“This location is crucial to the programme of work that we deliver today and is key to making our work as accessible as possible.

“We benefit from having a large proportion of drop-in visitors ...our proximity to Waverley station and other transport links make it easier for creative learning and course participants to travel to and from our premises.”

Mr Harman said: “Over the last three years, Stills has undergone huge organisational change in line with our vision to become one of the world’s leading centres for photography.

“Significantly, in 2018, we joined Creative Scotland’s portfolio of regularly funded organisations.

“One year in, we have grown our audiences and increased the ambition of our exhibitions and events programmes; we have launched Stills School, an alternative photography school for 16-25 year olds; and have invested in new resources for our open access photographic production facilities - open to the public at subsidised rates, seven days a week.”

A spokeswoman for the City of Edinburgh Council said: “When the original lease was drawn up for Stills Limited they were offered a substantial reduction in rent in recognition of the considerable capital they planned to spend on the property.

"Stills are now being asked to pay their rent at market value and the increase is being phased over five years."