On Sunday 100 protestors gathered at Inverleith House in Edinburgh to challenge what has been described as a work of cultural and civic vandalism – the closure of the space as a full-time contemporary art gallery. The protest organises under the banner ‘I Still Believe’, the title of the protest comes from a text work created by Douglas Gordon which has been on display in the gallery since 2005. It was the last exhibition when the gallery closed in October 2016.
In a statement then RBGE said that: “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. As part of this, Inverleith House will no longer be dedicated to the display of contemporary art, and RBGE is looking at options for the alternative use of the building.”
This is a pattern of public buildings and spaces being privatised, commodified and dumbed-down. Inverleith House presented more exhibitions by Turner Prize winners and nominees than any other gallery in the UK apart from the Tate Gallery in London, and is a unique public space. This is a trend you can see across the city, but as Cooper points out in this interview with Peter Knox at The Fountain, it is and has been a publicly funded space. You can’t take public funds for years then say, ‘we’re just a business’:
Journalist Neil Cooper spoke at Inverleith House mass visit this weekend. This is his statement:
“I just wanted to say a few words about today’s mass visit to Inverleith House.My name is Neil Cooper, and I’m a journalist who’s been writing about the ongoing closure of Inverleith House as a contemporary art gallery since it was closed last October.
First of all, I wanted to thank everyone for coming out today on a lovely February afternoon. You’ve not only helped increase the footfall of the Garden, but more importantly you’ve shown how much the people of Edinburgh have been saddened by the closure of the gallery.
The last time there was a mass visit was on the final day of the 30th anniversary exhibition, I Still Believe in Miracles, and up until that point, everybody here was able to come down to Inverleith House on a Sunday afternoon and see some of the greatest contemporary art in the world.
Sadly we can’t do that anymore, because the managers of the Garden say that Inverleith House can’t wash its face financially as a gallery, as if the House and everything that was shown in it was part of a business. With that in mind, I think the managers of the Garden may need pointed out to them that Inverleith House isn’t a business.
Inverleith House is public property, and for the managers of the Garden to close Inverleith House without notice or public consultation, and to completely ignore the recommendations of a report which has yet to be made public outside of the press is – to be kind – seriously misguided.
A lot has happened since the gallery was closed on October 23rd. There’s been a petition signed by more than 10,000 people calling for the decision to be reversed.
There’s been an early day motion at Westminster signed by 16 MPS. And there has been the setting up of a Working Group to discuss the House’s future, which met for the first time on Tuesday. During that time, the managers of the Garden have continually refused to answer questions which have been put to them.
They also appear to be back-tracking, with the announcement of a forthcoming summer exhibition of some kind which suggests that Inverleith House is able to wash its face. This is potentially a good thing, but whatever the summer exhibition is made up of, it cannot be a one-off show, and a long-term plan for sustained exhibitions of the best contemporary art in the world needs to be put in place.
The purpose of today is to highlight that, and to highlight the sense of disappointment many people feel about having one of the city’s greatest artistic assets taken away from them. And this needs to continue. On Thursday it will be four months since the House was closed. I want to encourage people to continue to campaign against the closure.
Write to the politicians who oversee the Garden. Publicise the petition. Write to the Garden’s managers and board of trustees.
And above all, as long as Inverleith House remains closed as a contemporary art gallery, continue to come down here every weekend, take pictures of yourselves with I Still Believe signs, and share them as much as you can. On the face of it, what’s happened to Inverleith House is a small local affair. But what looks like a lack of engagement and a lack of understanding of what went on in the House borders on contempt, and is indicative of a fear of art and a fear of ideas that is permeating our culture throughout the world right now.
For many of us, Inverleith House is literally on our doorstep. Let’s make sure that those doors are unlocked once more so we’re all able to enjoy the artistic riches it has housed for half a century, and can enjoy them for many years to come. Thank you for coming down. Keep believing. Have a great day.”
Or you can email or write to to express concern over the handling and communication of the closure:
Deidre Brock MP (Edinburgh North & Leith) expressing your views on the gallery closure,
Fiona Hyslop MSP (Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs)
Janet Archer of Creative Scotland
Professor Christopher Breward, Principal of Edinburgh College of Art and Vice Principal (Creative Industries and Performing Arts), University of Edinburgh