THIS coming Sunday marks the six-month anniversary of the closure of Inverleith House, which for the previous three decades was regarded as one of the world’s leading contemporary art galleries. This unique, light-filled venue, housed within the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), captured imaginations right up to its 30th anniversary exhibition, the tellingly named I Still Believe in Miracles...
Only after news of the closure leaked out did RBGE attempt to explain the decision by way of a written statement. While no proposed alternative use for Inverleith House was forthcoming, RBGE declared that it needed to focus on RBGE’s core botanical function. In an interview with The Herald, RBGE’s Regius Keeper Simon Milne stated that Inverleith House was unable to “wash its face” financially. For a publicly accountable custodian of a major public institution to use the language of a market trader in this way was telling.
Arts funding body Creative Scotland, which has funded Inverleith House on an annual basis, expressed its disappointment with the closure. Given that it had recently paid for a report on the future of Inverleith House, you can see its point, especially as nowhere in the report was there any recommendation that it should be closed. RBGE has yet to publish the report in the public domain, and only a Freedom of Information request by The Herald saw its release to journalists in redacted form.
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A “mass visit” on the final day of I Still Believe in Miracles... saw more than 700 art-lovers protesting against the closure. A petition opposing RBGE’s decision has attracted more than 10,000 signatures, while a noticeably quiet Scottish Government set up a short term working party to discuss Inverleith House’s future. Twenty-three questions asked by myself in my capacity as a contributor to online arts and culture magazine, Product, remain unanswered.
More recently, it was announced that a summer exhibition at Inverleith House will form part of Edinburgh Art Festival. While RBGE’s hand has evidently been forced by public pressure, this isn’t nearly enough, but perhaps RBGE’s priorities lie elsewhere. This week, a job ad by French multinational Sodexo, which manages RBGE’s events programme, came to light. The ad, for a corporate sales manager – conference and events at RBGE – is riddled throughout with the profit-driven language of commerce. It makes no mention of any kind of art programme. Nor does it highlight RBGE’s core botanical function.
It seems obvious to me that there are those in office at RBGE who believe they are running a business. These same publicly accountable officials are reluctant to answer questions about their conduct in regards to the closure of a national public asset. What is clear most of all is that, in closing Inverleith House, RBGE has made a terrible mistake. It is embarrassing too for a Scottish Government which claims to value Scotland’s artistic institutions. Only the reopening of Inverleith House as a permanent contemporary art gallery will resolve a sorry mess which should never have happened.