CRIPPLED by the pandemic, Glasgow’s renowned arts scene has reached crisis point. As The Herald campaigns for a Fair Deal for Glasgow, we meet the people whose lives have been changed by the city’s museums, galleries and theatres.

When Arvind Salwan was a child, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum became his playground. Skipping through the doors, he would make a beeline for his favourites: the battle-worn Ghost Dance Shirt and a Vincent van Gogh portrait of art dealer Alexander Reid that he dubbed “the tiger man”.

Growing up in Glasgow during the early 1970s, the eldest son of immigrants from India, Salwan credits these regular visits with firing his imagination and forging a life-long appreciation of art – something he believes would never have happened if he had been raised anywhere else.

Each Sunday, when his parents had their one afternoon off – Salwan’s father was a bus driver and inspector, then later ran a restaurant, while his mother worked in a tea factory – the family would head to Kelvingrove to spend many happy hours browsing the collections.

Almost half a century later, Salwan fondly recalls those visits. “Kelvingrove felt like the history of civilisation,” he says. “It all existed there, be it the dinosaurs, the Neanderthals, Egyptian sarcophagi or medieval knights in armour.

“Kelvingrove was my other teacher. It brought my stuffy schoolbooks to life with stories of real lives. It felt like a Tardis to other exciting worlds.”

The Herald: Arvind Salwan stands beside Portrait of Alexander Reid (1887) by Vincent van Gogh at Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow. Picture: Colin Mearns/The HeraldArvind Salwan stands beside Portrait of Alexander Reid (1887) by Vincent van Gogh at Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow. Picture: Colin Mearns/The Herald

TV personality Carol Smillie echoes this sentiment as she recounts how the myriad treasures contained within the museum’s walls stoked her passion for the arts.

“My love for Kelvingrove began when I entered an art competition through my school,” she says. “I got the day off to go and draw. I drew a Mandarin warrior and got highly commended – it was probably the first thing I had ever been given a proper certificate for.

“That is what started it. I remember thinking this was a magical place you could get lost in. Every time you turned a corner, there was something new and exciting to look at. I grew up with Kelvingrove having a warm place in my heart.”

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Smillie went on to study at Glasgow School of Art and later joined the board of trustees for Kelvingrove and its sister venue Riverside Museum. “We are so lucky to have free entry to museums because it is escapism for many people,” she says.

“When proudly showing off my city to visitors, those are on the whistle-stop tour: Glasgow School of Art, Riverside, Kelvingrove, the Tall Ship, the Squinty Bridge and that amazing view of the Hydro.”

The Herald: Carol Smillie outside Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. Picture: Martin ShieldsCarol Smillie outside Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. Picture: Martin Shields

Smillie and Salwan – like countless other Glaswegians – have shared those experiences with their own families and friends, a baton passed from one generation to the next.

Yet, as Scotland emerges from the pandemic, a question mark hangs over the arts and cultural landscape. Many theatres, after being “dark” for more than 15 months, remain in a precarious position. Other venues, including museums and galleries, face uncertain futures due to funding cuts.

Writing for The Herald last weekend, Dr Bridget McConnell, chief executive of Glasgow Life, stated that the arms-length cultural and leisure organisation saw the pandemic wipe out an estimated £38m worth of annual earned income, leaving many of its services and venues in limbo.

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According to McConnell, the forecast for this year is a conservative income target of £6.4m. Glasgow Life has opened 90 of its 171 venues post-lockdown, but without further funding, cannot reopen any more facilities.

“The harsh reality of the prolonged financial pressures we face is that we will simply not be able to restart additional services or open more venues beyond those we have already announced without significant additional funding,” she wrote.

“The experience of the past 17 months has demonstrated just how important cultural and leisure services are on so many levels.

“Across Glasgow and the west of Scotland, tourism, hospitality, the arts, sport, heritage and culture employ almost 80,000 people and bring more than £1 billion to the local economy.”

The Herald: Dr Bridget McConnell, chief executive of Glasgow Life. Picture: Kirsty Anderson/The HeraldDr Bridget McConnell, chief executive of Glasgow Life. Picture: Kirsty Anderson/The Herald

Already facing the seismic fallout of funding cuts is Andy Arnold, artistic director of the Tron Theatre. His organisation, along with others, have experienced first-hand the impact of losing out on grant money under the controversial and oversubscribed Glasgow Communities Fund, administered by Glasgow City Council.

“It is very bleak just now,” he says. “A decision was made a year ago to more or less wipe out almost all the funding for the independent arts sector in Glasgow. Up until last year, the independent arts sector was funded through Glasgow Life.

“Then it was shifted to the Communities Fund. We were applying and it seemed a completely inappropriate form of application. It was almost as if there was no interest whatsoever in cultural activity – it was all to do with community worth.

“Sure enough, when the decisions were made, almost every arts organisation in Glasgow lost its funding, including some that had been funded for 40 years.”

The Herald: Andy Arnold, artistic director of the Tron Theatre. Picture: Mark F GibsonAndy Arnold, artistic director of the Tron Theatre. Picture: Mark F Gibson

Let’s rewind a few decades to Glasgow’s successful tenure as European City of Culture in 1990 – a golden year which ushered in a new era of confidence and verve for proud Glaswegians from all walks of life.

Arnold, founder of The Arches, was at the heart of that metamorphosis. As part of the programme of cultural events, a previously derelict area beneath Glasgow Central railway station was converted to house the exhibition Glasgow’s Glasgow.

In 1991, once that exhibition ended, the space was taken over by Arnold with the goal of creating a theatre. He came up with a business plan to use revenue from nightclub events to fund ambitious productions and grow The Arches into one of Europe’s leading cultural venues.

“We wouldn’t have created The Arches without having the infrastructure from 1990 and it being converted into a public space,” recalls Arnold. “It was tremendous for the city. That artistic, literary and music life was there already in Glasgow, it’s just nobody outside of Scotland was aware of it.

“European City of Culture put Glasgow on the map. Then it was a case of the momentum carrying on from that, which it did for a while. In recent times, it has lost that. It doesn’t seem to be the priority it was before, which I think is very short-sighted.”

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Arnold left The Arches in 2008 to take up his current role at the Tron Theatre. It is his belief that Glasgow remains “the most exciting cultural city in the UK without a shadow of a doubt”, yet he has grave concerns about how that mantle is being eroded.

It has been an uphill battle since the funding model changed, says Arnold. “There was a bit of a stramash and as a result three organisations – the Tron, Citizens Theatre and the CCA – had their funding restored for 18 months; we don’t know what is happening after that,” he says.

Arnold believes that leaves theatres and other venues at a tricky juncture, with the city’s reputation as a world leader for arts and culture hanging in the balance.

“The place I started, The Arches, we developed that into a cornerstone and international arts centre,” he says. “When they lost their late licence [in 2015], it wouldn’t have taken too much by either Creative Scotland or Glasgow City Council to try and find a way of preserving it.

“Nothing happened, it went into administration and now a private organisation [the indoor street food market Platform] benefits from the millions of pounds of investment that was spent on The Arches and refurbishing that space. That has been lost.

“There are too many things like that happening in recent years which undermine what was so wonderfully set up 30 years ago with the European City of Culture. It was an extraordinary year which transformed the view of Glasgow overnight and worldwide.”

That buzz and creativity within Glasgow’s flourishing arts scene saw it become a magnet, helping to launch or nurture the careers of countless budding performance-makers, who then took their work to festivals and theatres across the globe.

The Herald: Members of the Glasgow Independent Dance Troupe performing at Ibrox subway station as part of the European City of Culture celebrations in 1990Members of the Glasgow Independent Dance Troupe performing at Ibrox subway station as part of the European City of Culture celebrations in 1990

“During that period artists from London were moving to Glasgow because they wanted to get involved in that cultural scene,” says Arnold. “It had a real cosmopolitan and international feel. It still does to some extent, but a lot of them have left Glasgow as a result of what has been happening.

“The ability for Glasgow to create a new generation of artists is still there – it remains a very fertile ground for musicians and playwrights and performers.

“Something I believe in very strongly is the Tron being a platform for new artistic talent to come forward. We collaborated in 2018 with a young company of actors called Blood of the Young and did this magical piece of theatre called Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of).

“That production will be opening in London’s West End at the Criterion Theatre this October. That type of thing wouldn’t have been made anywhere else but in Glasgow – the humour and irreverence in it comes out of that Glasgow mentality.”

The power of the arts, he attests, can change a city’s perception of itself, boost the economy and be an intrinsic part of a holistic approach to promoting wider health and wellbeing.

“Historically the Citizens Theatre, for example, put on plays in the Gorbals and was packed out with local working-class people which doesn’t happen in London and a lot of other cities,” says Arnold.

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“That identity with the arts is so important and needs to developed even more through education and art activities in schools. An awful lot of that has been cut back, but it is crucial for people’s mental health – it is a tremendous thing to have. And vital.”

What would Arnold like to see happen to tackle some of the issues we have discussed? “The city itself needs to redress its commitment to supporting arts organisations,” he says. “Having literally, in a stroke, taken away that support, it needs to recognise that.

“Arts organisations are having to submit their proposals alongside community activities. If you are talking about whether you fund a small arts company alongside a rape crisis centre, for example, then it is no-brainer.

“But that sort of choice shouldn’t be made. Culture on its own should be separate and recognised that it has its role.

“The reason I wouldn’t be directing a theatre anywhere else in the country is because audiences in Glasgow are the best there are,” he adds. “Glasgow audiences recognise good theatre in a way that in a lot of cities they don’t.

“There is a programme of work that you can put on in the Citizens Theatre, for example, that you couldn’t put on in the main theatres of Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool or wherever. There is a willingness to explore new work here in a way that doesn’t exist elsewhere.”

The Herald: The Herald Magazine cover for July 10, 2021. Picture: Colin Mearns/The HeraldThe Herald Magazine cover for July 10, 2021. Picture: Colin Mearns/The Herald

A weekday morning and Arvind Salwan is back at Kelvingrove. Almost 25 years ago, he and his wife Anita founded The Unity Foundation, a charity that helps disadvantaged children and young people through arts and cultural programmes.

Over the years, the couple has raised funds and donated to the Kelvingrove Refurbishment Appeal and Riverside Museum Appeal. From 2002, Salwan spent seven years as a lay member on the Glasgow Museums Contemporary Arts Purchase Panel that oversaw acquisitions for the Gallery of Modern Art.

Salwan’s fascination with the Van Gogh portrait that hangs in Kelvingrove, which in boyhood he had nicknamed “the tiger man” due to the artwork’s fiery touches of red, orange and green, led to him making a BBC Radio Scotland documentary in 2002.

The programme examined the link between the famed artist and the painting’s subject, Alexander Reid, a Scots-born art dealer who shared a Paris flat with Van Gogh during the late 1880s.

It is a subject that Salwan has continued to delve into over the years. Uncovering new threads of research brought him much-needed solace during the pandemic.

“One of Van Gogh’s well-known quotes is: ‘If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere,’” he says. “Kelvingrove is nestled on the fringes of Kelvingrove Park, so there is a real affinity there between art, nature and wellbeing.

“I must have been about five or six when I saw the portrait of Alexander Reid. Unbeknown to me then, the City of Glasgow had only acquired it in 1974.

“When Glasgow was the European City of Culture in 1990, there was an exhibition held at the Burrell Collection called The Age of Van Gogh: Dutch Painting 1880-1895. That took me from Kelvingrove to the Burrell Collection and broadened my interest in art.”

The Herald: Arvind Salwan at Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow. Picture: Colin Mearns/The HeraldArvind Salwan at Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow. Picture: Colin Mearns/The Herald

Similarly, the heart-rending story of the Ghost Dance Shirt – believed to have been worn by a Native American at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 and repatriated to the Lakota people by Glasgow Museums in 1999 – captured his imagination.

“As a young child, I used to try and catch my reflection in the glass display cabinet that housed the shirt, almost believing that some of its special powers could perhaps transfer onto me,” he says.

“Back then, when I was growing up, people didn’t use the correct term Native Americans – it was always ‘Red Indians’ or ‘Cowboys and Indians’ in comics and on TV. As a little kid, I would think: ‘Well, I am Indian.’ I felt that affinity.”

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Salwan recounts the strong connection his parents felt with Kelvingrove when they chose Scotland to settle down and raise a family, after moving to Glasgow from Punjab in northern India as newlyweds in their early twenties.

“For many economic migrants in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the museum’s international collection gave them a real reminder of the countries they had left,” he says. “Many of them were from the Commonwealth, including my own parents, who arrived here from India.

“Most of that generation are in their eighties and nineties now but I know they still hold a deep affection for Kelvingrove because it is where they whiled away their only afternoon off each Sunday with their young, second-generation families.”

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It pains Salwan that erosion of funding could deny this same joy to future generations. “It is a truly remarkable, visionary and world-class collection and it belongs to Glasgow and Scotland,” he says. “I am sure there are hundreds of people who have stories just like me.

“Post-pandemic we face a significant crossroads. You do have that much bigger funding question but, in my mind, there is no question whatsoever in terms of the return on investment and the value to society that places like Kelvingrove provide and will continue to do so.”