Nov 082019
 

Duncan Harley takes a tour of the newly refurbished Aberdeen Art Gallery

It rained and there was a bag search on the way in to the gallery space, but fortunately we had arrived late and there was no queue. The drenched security operatives cheerfully let me through since I had no bag and just a stick.
A cursory glance into my companion’s crowded handbag convinced them that she was no una-bomber and off we went to see the pictures.

It was day one of the re-opening of the newly refurbished Aberdeen Art Gallery and a tiny sense of foreboding clouded the event – the renovation had included the discovery of plague skeletons – there were 92 of them.

And the original quite splendid white-marbled staircase had it seems been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Clutching our, now soggy, Eventbrite passes we made our way into what might once have been a familiar space.

Various dog-tagged staffers welcomed us into the new space. Commemorative tin-badges were handed out and a quite splendid map detailing the various new gallery spaces immediately made clear that the old, and perhaps dowdy, gallery space had gone to that dusty place where such things go to die.

Seven years and £35m in the making, the new interior is quite breath-taking.

Where the staircase stood, there is now an open central space linking three floors.

Not an atrium in the true sense but not far off in terms of lighting, and acoustically splendid.

Opening morning was accented by a set of coloured musical notes titled ‘The Big Picture’. By Judith Weir – a formidable composer with Boston Symphony and various operas under her belt.

Conducted by John Horton and directed by Roger Williams, the celebratory piece, written specially for the opening of the gallery, took the form of a synaesthesia where listeners were invited to experience five colour-themed movements (Green, Blue, Gold, Red/White and finally Colour) in a cantata for two choirs plus an instrumental ensemble spread amongst the gallery floors.

The resulting sound experience was quite breath-taking, especially when heard for the very first time in a public space.

As Judith’s Big Picture gently reverberated around the building, we headed for the upper floor before making our way down the staircase and through the various new gallery spaces.

There are thankfully a few familiar images amongst the thousand or so exhibits. Eric Auld, Joseph Farquharson, Glasgow Boys and Monet feature. But in the main, the new space is full of new pleasures and a somewhat brave set of decisions.

Photography is allowed – and why should it not be. Accessibility has also been splendidly addressed and the artwork on display boldly embraces most tastes.

Tracey Emin vies with George and George. Martin Parr vies with the old masters who painted Finzean sheep and Victoria’s kilted Albert. And a multitude of previously unseen works inhabit the walls, Dick Turpin amongst them.

And the justice on the cake? The new gallery is free to enter and as often as you like. All we need now is an Aberdeen Museum.

  • Duncan Harley is author of two books about the North-east of Scotland. Both – The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire and The Little History of Aberdeenshire – are available from Amazon.
Oct 062017
 

With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

A new exhibition of breath-taking contemporary Scottish photography explores our relationship with the ocean and the growing problem of marine pollution.
It highlights how this global problem impacts the environment right here in the N.E. of Scotland. Bibo Keeley’s exhibition takes inspiration from the oceans – and the worrying state they are in.

Bibo gives the background to her work:

An estimated 12.7 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year. Plastic does not bio-degrade, so it lingers in the ocean and it is killing animals and plants alike at an alarming rate. The natural order of things is seriously under threat.

The bad news is that our lives are closely connected with that of the ocean. For example: 50% of the oxygen we breathe and which regulates the climate is produced in the sea, mainly by plankton. However, according to The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society the plankton populations have been diminished by 40% since 1950. If the ocean dies, we all die.

Bibo said: ‘I have been visiting Aberdeen beach for about 20 years and I noticed that the amount of litter on the beach is on the increase. I started to document this with photography and I also travelled to other coastlines of Scotland to do the same. I found ocean litter on every single beach, no matter how remote – on the Isle of Lewis, on Skye, at Cape Wrath and on Orkney just to name a few.

The changes that the oceans make on our coastline are slow and almost imperceptible. In contrast, the negative impact on nature due to man’s interference is evident and happening with increasing speed. We – the population of planet earth – really need to slow down our negative impact on the environment.’

Bibo Keeley’s exhibition also includes:

– An installation of some of the beach litter which the artist collected from Aberdeen’s beaches.

– Videos (produced by artist Brian Keeley) showing Bibo Keeley’s personal connecting with the ocean; singing a love song to a dead seal , singing to a stranded oilrig,

– A video documenting Bibo Keeley’s recent participatory slow walking performance on Aberdeen Beach.

Bibo Keeley’s quote on the slow walking performance:

“When we slow down our breathing and our speed and manage to just be in the present moment, we can experience a shift in awareness – it’s a good way to connect with nature”

For Bibo’s slow walking performance, she was supported by Dr. Amy Bryzgel (art historian, author and senior lecturer in Film and Visual Culture at Aberdeen University) who participated in the walk along with the students of her Performance Art course. Dr. Bryzgel’s next lecture in Performance Art will take place in the exhibition space of Mother Ocean at Seventeen on Tuesday 3 October 2017 at 14.00.

Bibo invited the participants in her recent slow walking performance at Aberdeen Beach to have an inner dialogue with the ocean, or to think of ways in which they could reduce the use of unnecessary plastics in their lives; or to just relish the luxury of being allowed to take the time to slow down.

Imagine if every one of us felt so connected with the ocean that they made a conscious decision to help to save and restore the ocean”. – Bibo Keeley

 Dr. Bryzgel reflected on the performative walk on the gww (The George Washington Wilson Centre for Visual Culture) website about her experiences.

“it took us 90 minutes to walk what usually would have taken about 1-2 minutes at a normal pace ..… There was something really unifying about doing the performance together. For a brief moment, we became part of a community that shared something very unique.”

The exhibition ‘MOTHER OCEAN’ runs at Aberdeen’s Gallery Seventeen (Lower Gallery) from 3-7 October 2017.

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Apr 112017
 

By Fin Hall.

Nuart Aberdeen has finally arrived. A first for the city, sees a collection of street artists, organised by Aberdeen Inspired gather to paint, talk and show films etc over the Easter

Old and rarely used doors on the streets within the city centre, mainly around the Merchant Quarter, are being painted in different styles by different artists.

Among the artists participating in this current international project is Julien de Casabianca, a French/Corsican artist.

His Outgoing project features images of paintings in art galleries, often taken by members of the public on their phones, the main subject from said painting isolated via photoshop, then printed onto paper.

This paper is then pasted on buildings, walls etc in public spaces.

To this end various primary schools were invited to send a group of children to Aberdeen Museum Treasure Hub in Northfield, a building which stores many of the works of art that have been relocated from the Art Gallery during the refurbishment that is currently ongoing.

I was in invited by Aberdeen Inspired and NuArt to catalogue this process, working with Manor Park, Riverbank and Walker Road schools.

On arrival, the children were told what the general purpose of their visit would entail, before being split into two or three groups. I would stick with one of the groups each time. This took place on three Thursdays in March.

In the first part of their session, the children would be in an almost classroom like situation where they were given practically free rein to express themselves art wise.

They had a large wall mounted monitor complete with a white screen where they could copy images from the Art Gallery’s digital representation of the art works in it’s collection, or just draw whatever they wished; there were props and dressing up clothes so they could utilise and get their friends to take photos of themselves, or take selfies, with their iPads.

Also, there were word searches and sheets of A4 paper which had a pre-printed frame on, so they could draw whatever took their fancy. It was interesting to watch and see how they reacted and the choice they made. Some would throw themselves wholeheartedly into it, others just sat quietly and concentrated on drawing.

After about 45 minutes, the group I was with were taken through into the first of two storage rooms, with their iPads, to view and photograph the paintings, or rather, parts of paintings, be it a figure, an animal or something like a tree.

the youngsters had ever seen such paintings, and they were quite amazed

This room contained paintings of various sizes and from various eras, stored in racks which slid out when pulled. These works of art were paintings done on either canvas or or other fabrics, but not paper.

Some of the works they weren’t able to capture because they are still under copyright, or were covered in protective tape and plastic, but many others were available.

This was the first time that many of  and interested in them. I had to explain to them that they should concentrate on just part of a painting, and not fill their screen with the whole thing, some of which, as you can imagine were rather large.

After that they were led into a smaller room where paintings and drawings done on paper, were stored in drawers. Some of these drawers were already pulled out and at just the right height for the children to stand over, making sure that their device covers were either removed or held securely up, and snap until their hearts’ content.

The net result is that selected photographs the children have taken will be chosen to be the ones used by Julian to paste up in the East Green – an area other artists will be utilising, and where the official opening ceremony on Saturday 15th April will take place.

This part of he city already has several doors from the Painted Doors project already in situ. So it is the perfect location for the hub of the event.

Saying that, there will be several events taking place in the few days leading up to that. See the NuArt website for details.

All in all it was a pleasure to be involved with the schoolchildren.

The Treasure Hub is available for group and organisation tours. It is well worth visiting. So, this coming week get out and about in the city centre and see this unique event.

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Apr 072017
 

With thanks to Jessica Murphy, Senior Account Executive, Citrus:Mix.

Youngsters from Aberdeen schools have delved into the city’s prestigious art collection to get inspiration for their special involvement in Nuart Aberdeen.
Pupils from Manor Park, Woodside, Riverbank, Seaton and Walker Road primary schools got the opportunity to explore a wide range of art at the Treasure Hub in Northfield, currently being kept in safe storage while the Aberdeen Art Gallery undergoes its multi-million pound redevelopment. 

The sessions were held as part of The Outings Project, a participatory public art project founded by the globally renowned artist Julian de Casabianca.

The artist, who is participating in the inaugural Nuart Aberdeen festival, will work with the youngsters to paste their selected characters at specific sites in Aberdeen city centre.

Pupils had the opportunity to examine a number of paintings from the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums Collections, from Portrait of a Lady (The Artist’s Wife) by William Dyce to La Perla de Triana by John Phillip, among others, choosing and photographing their favourite characters to share with the Aberdeen public.

They will then enlarge and paste them up in the city centre under the guidance of Julian, as well as in their own schools and neighbourhoods – getting the change to turn the streets into temporary art galleries during the festival, which is taking place from Friday April 14 to Sunday April 16.

The artworks that the children accessed for this project aren’t currently on display, giving the public a wonderful opportunity to enjoy them in a new way.

It is hoped that the project will help children feel involved in the festival, especially as their efforts will also be displayed in their local areas, as well as encourage new audiences to engage with the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums collection.

There are a number of fun ways for youngsters and families to get involved in Nuart Aberdeen including street printing and chalk drawing workshops, walking tours and an Easter Sunday Street Art hunt.

Nuart Aberdeen will officially open on Saturday April 15, when Herakut’s monumental mural on the façade of Aberdeen Market will be unveiled before the guided Street Art tours begin.

Local breakdance group Bring It Boys will perform a ‘Street Art’ inspired routine created especially for the event.

Also on Saturday, the street printing workshop with Berlin-based collective Raubdruckerin will teach participants how to transform old clothes with street inspired graphic designs from the area in and around Castlegate.

The Chalk Don’t Chalk workshop, being held on St Nicholas Centre’s Rooftop Garden on Sunday April 16, gives children of all ages the “freedom of the city” to create their own chalk street art pieces, with professional artists on hand to teach and guide children on their designs.

Belgian street artist Jaune has been busy hiding his mischievous bin men and women around Aberdeen city centre for the Easter Sunday Street Art hunt also on Sunday. Children can follow the hints provided to find six hidden artworks and win a special Easter Sunday prize.

Elaine Farquharson-Black, director at Aberdeen Inspired and partner at sponsor Burness Paull, said:

“It was wonderful to see the children enjoying the sessions at The Treasure Hub and getting so involved. Nuart Aberdeen is a legacy project for us and we are really looking forward to seeing their paste-ups in the city centre and their local communities.

“This particular project was the brainchild of Julian de Casabianca and it was intended for local children to feel ownership of these images. It is also hoped that they will bring their families to enjoy the Art Gallery when it re-opens in 2018/19 because it will feel, quite rightly, as if they are artists, in the same way as those displayed in our local art space are.

“We would like to extend our thanks to Aberdeen City Council for supporting school staff during these project, as well as community staff who will help with the next stage, and of course, the Aberdeen Art Gallery staff who facilitated the sessions at the Treasure Hub.

“There will be a range of fun events that youngsters and their families can take advantage of during Nuart Aberdeen and I would urge everyone to check out the programme and enjoy what is on offer.”

An Aberdeen City Council spokesman said:

“We are absolutely delighted that our schools and pupils are participating so enthusiastically in the latest festival offering in Aberdeen’s cultural calendar. We have placed a huge emphasis on culture and education and to bring the two together at the Treasure Hub and for the children to work with a globally renowned artist is absolutely fantastic.”

For more information on Nuart Aberdeen please visit http://www.nuartaberdeen.co.uk/

Aberdeen Inspired is the banner under which the Aberdeen BID (Business Improvement District) operates. It is a business-led initiative within the city centre in which levy payers within the BID zone contribute. Proceeds are used to fund projects designed to improve the business district and driving footfall to the zone.

More information on the work of Aberdeen Inspired is available at www.aberdeeninspired.com

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May 192016
 

artgallerypicBy Scott Shaw.

I was the longstanding Insurance Officer at Aberdeen City Council and had held that position for nearly 17 years. My main duties were the running of a small insurance section which handled all the councils insurance claims such as pavement slips/trips, road pothole claims, council motor fleet accident claims, fire and employers liability claims etc.

Part of my duties also involved liaising with council insurers over insurance issues/covers which also involved insurance tender work at 5 yearly intervals. I am a fully qualified associate of the Institute of Risk management.

During March 2012 I had very good reason for believing that wrongful activity was occurring on a key insurance policy used to insure the high value art collections of Aberdeen Art Gallery and this activity had been longstanding.

The value of the Art Gallery collections are huge and at March 2012 was £240 Million. I blew the whistle, which is more accurately defined as making a public interest disclosure under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. I was suspended immediately after doing so.

The wrongs concerned key insurance covers.

The disclosure activated the Councils Whistle Blowing Charter which fell under the responsibility of the former Head of Legal & Democratic Services and a formal investigation was conducted by the Councils internal auditors, Price Waterhouse Coopers.

I met with PWC on 25th June 2012 at PWC’s Aberdeen office where I presented further evidence regarding the wrongful conduct of the underwriting unit of the Councils insurers, Zurich Municipal.

The concern I raised was that a letter from the underwriters, in response to my request for clarification, presented information which was (to put it mildly) inconsistent with the terms of the actual active insurance policy in that it sought to reassure that theft was not limited to ‘forcible or violent entry to or exit from the premises’.

No such assurance is apparent in the pertinent section of the actual policy.

My suspension lasted an entire year which is incredible to say the least and at the end of that year I was dismissed and handed a PWC investigative report, the contents of which I considered to be inaccurate and in parts unfounded. This report was then used by the Council at Tribunal Court in Aberdeen where I firmly believe it misled a court and denied me fair judicial hearing.

The report was unfairly weighted against me and included what I consider to be inaccuracies with regard to the content of emails and time events. The most worrying aspect however, was the omission of the aforementioned letter from the underwriter, despite this having been examined by the report writer, which was key to my case.

The writer of the report was also allowed to destroy all the supporting e-mail documents he alleged to have examined in his report (thus removing an audit trail) which contravenes documentation retention surrounding fraud / whistle blowing investigations.

It has taken me literally thousands of hours and extensive use of the Freedom of Information statute to validate the disclosure and to expose the activities of PWC with regard to this matter. The covering up of wrongs is highlighted itself as being wrongful activity under the Protected Interest Disclosure Act 1998.

Based on all the evidence I have gathered and studied, it is apparent to me that, for decades, Aberdeen City Council had been diddled out of fire insurance cover on what is effectively the largest fire insurance risk north of Edinburgh.

If that was not bad enough this activity went right around the UK with Councils up and down the Country not having fire insurance cover on their high value art collections.

The FOI returns I have show that over 95% of UK Councils had inadequate fire cover.

There were other wrongs on the arrangement dating back to 2003 including wrongful activity in relation to specific covers including the important theft cover.

It took me over 2 years to produce a 160 page investigative report into the matter which validated the disclosure and on 9th November 2015 this report was presented to the Chief Executive Officer of Aberdeen City Council and the Deputy Provost who sits on the Councils Audit, Risk and Scrutiny Committee.

In late December I had managed to arrange a meeting to discuss the report and during this meeting (which included Councils Head of Legal ) the Deputy Provost suggested the Police should be notified due to the nature and historic matters concerning the insurance arrangement.

The months ticked by and after several prods and chase-ups, I received a nine line e-mail from the Council’s Legal Head and a four line letter from the Councils Chief Executive Officer declaring their satisfaction with the insurance arrangement and the Price Waterhouse Coopers report – this outcome being contrary to discussions at the meeting of 20th December 2015.

I have now taken the matter up with the head of complaints at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountants (Cipfa) who are the professional body of the PWC Senior Manager (who carried out the PWC investigation/report) and also the CEO of Aberdeen City Council. For any interested reader, Cipfa publish the findings of misconduct/ethics hearings on their web page which is www.Cipfa.org

A recent Freedom of Information enquiry I sent to all 32 Scottish Councils indicates that for PIDA whistle blowing cases in local government approx 70% find no wrongs.

It is my firm belief that this figure is far too high and likely to be due to extensive nullification/turning a blind eye/cover ups of said disclosures.

I have presented my case to members of the Scottish Parliament and requested that the Scottish Parliament look at the matter. This they failed to do back in 2013 when a Public Petition was raised in the Scottish Parliament specifically concerning possible cover ups of whistle blowing disclosures. This petition can be seen on www.scottish.parliament.uk under PE01488.

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Apr 082016
 

With thanks to Eoin Smith, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR

ABERDEEN ART GALLERY DRUM CASTLE

Griffin Coe, fine art curator at Aberdeen Art Gallery views Floorpiece, 1996 by Maureen Bell, Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Collections

Four centuries of art – from 17th Century paintings  to contemporary DVD installations – have been unveiled at Drum Castle in Aberdeenshire in its latest venture with Aberdeen Art Gallery.

The contrasting exhibition called Northern Lights shines a light on key works on loan from the city gallery while it remains closed for refurbishment.

And it’s hoped that Northern Lights will contribute to another dazzling year for the National Trust for Scotland property which saw visitor numbers grow by a quarter after launching its gallery space last year.

Dr Alison Burke, property manager of Drum Castle, says:

“I am delighted that the partnership between Aberdeen Art Gallery and the National Trust for Scotland has resulted in a second exhibition at Drum Castle. It is an honour to welcome this fascinating exhibition that includes four centuries of art within the historic environment of Drum Castle.

“Last year we did exceptionally well and saw a 24% increase in visitor numbers which means an increase in our income to help us conserve the castle and the estate, but it’s also about more people coming to Drum and finding out about Aberdeenshire’s oldest castle.

“Many visitors said they felt closer to the art in a domestic setting; they felt they could get up close and personal with the works. Other feedback was they liked the juxtaposition of viewing a contemporary collection in an historic location.

“The 2016 exhibition includes some of the most iconic works of Aberdeen Art Gallery and is called Northern Lights, themed around light and I think there is something for everybody.

“From historic art, we move on to influential art from the 20th Century, iconic works by Turner, McIntosh, DVD installations and scultpture; Drum is helping play a part in keeping these iconic works accessible to the public while Aberdeen Art Gallery is being refurbished.”

There are more than 30 paintings, sculptures and digital video including a new addition to the collection, Watercolour by Elizabeth Blackadder and works by Joseph Farquharson, Joan Eardley, John Byrne, John Bellany, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and SJ Peploe and the challenging performance work, Gralloch by Henry Coombes.

ABERDEEN ART GALLERY DRUM CASTLE

Skull portrait at Drum

Its launch comes as some of the castle’s own important art is back in place after undergoing restoration.

The Irvine family were staunch supporters of the Stuart cause, and the Jacobite portrait painter Cosmo Alexander collection at Drum has undergone a refurbishment, revealing a fresh face of ‘The Hidden Laird’ who hid in the tower to evade Government forces.

Alexander Irvine of Drum fought alongside Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Battle of Culloden, retreating to the castle after the battle and was hidden in the secret room within the walls of the ancient Tower by his sister Mary Irvine for  three years.

Aberdeen Art Gallery is due to reopen following a major refurbishment in the winter of 2017 and has shared its collections with venues across city and shire to ensure the public can continue to enjoy the works.

Northern Lights showcases many of the Gallery’s iconic paintings in addition to challenging, cutting-edge pieces of the 21st century, side by said, says Olga Ferguson, fine art curator at Aberdeen Art Gallery.

“The overarching theme is Scottish art and artists but each room has its own theme,” says Olga.

“A breadth of art is shown, both works by Scottish artists and those with a Scottish connection, in a display where modern art mingles with earlier, traditional paintings. Each room has its own individual variation upon a theme, subject or style which offers a snapshot of the story of art in Scotland.

“There are 30 works of art and the contemporary pieces in particular contrast with what one would normally expect to find in a National Trust for Scotland castle.”

Deputy Leader of Aberdeen City Council Councillor Marie Boulton added:

“It’s wonderful that while Aberdeen Art Gallery is closed as part of a multi-million pound redevelopment we continue to offer a programme of art and music to residents and visitors to the city, and indeed across the UK and abroad.  By working in partnership with the National Trust for Scotland we are able to offer visitors to Drum Castle the opportunity to see a selection of some of our most popular artwork in a wonderful new setting.”

Last year’s collaboration, an exhibition entitled Human Presence, helped generate increased footfall, with the castle welcoming 33,500 visitors.

The new curated exhibition continues at Drum until March 31, 2017.

Drum Castle is located 10 miles west of Aberdeen off the A93. The castle is set in extensive grounds with walks, picnic area, an historic rose garden, adventure play area, tearoom and shop. Normal castle admission charges apply.

For further information call 01330 700 335 or visit http://www.nts.org.uk/property/drum-castle-garden-and-estate/

 

 

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Jul 302015
 

Edinburgh based artist, Julia Douglas reveals blood shed behind creating ‘clothes peg dress’ on show at Drum Castle. With thanks to Esther Green, Tricker PR.

DRUM CASTLE ART EXHIBITION MARCH 2015

Highly Sprung by Julia Douglas is very much at home in the new exhibition space at Drum Castle. Pic: Newsline Media Ltd.

Castles have throughout history been places of bloody carnage and battles. Now an artist whose work is on show at a Scottish castle has revealed her own blood shed over creating the installation.

Julia Douglas’ Highly Sprung, a dress made out of 12,500 clothes pegs, is part of an exhibition of contemporary art in a newly created art gallery in Drum Castle in Aberdeenshire.

Creating the installation was a real labour of love for Julia, who spent long days over two months working on the project, the theme of which has become her signature style.

After breaking the pegs to separate the wood from the metal springs, she then linked the springs together to create the shape of the dress. It was an intricate but successful process and remarkably no glue, support or fastenings were needed to keep the dress structure in place.

Julia says:

“It was a very repetitive process, akin to knitting, but also just like housework, a job that you do over and over again. The process made my fingers bleed.”

But the blood shed was worth it as 15 years after its creation and Highly Sprung remains one of Julia’s personal favourites.

“All of my work revolves around the home and relationships we have with objects around the home; how they tell a story about the owners and their life,” she explains.

 “Highly Sprung is very much part of that theme, in fact this was the first one I did and I have continued with that theme ever since.”

Julia feels the homely setting of a country castle provides the ideal backdrop for the ‘Human Presence’ themed exhibition.

Around 20 key works from the permanent collection of Aberdeen Art Gallery have been loaned to the castle while the gallery undergoes a major refurbishment. Other works include Gallowgate Lard by Ken Currie, Restraining Coat 2 by Julie Roberts.

Julia says:

“I am absolutely delighted that Highly Sprung has been hung in this selected exhibition.

“I feel proud to have my work sit alongside prestigious artists like Alison Watt, Ken Currie, Gavin Turk and Julie Roberts, whose works I particularly admire.

“I feel that the domestic interior at Drum Castle, with its fireplaces, wooden panels and skirting boards, is an ideal location for an exhibition exploring human presence and hope that this different setting for the work will attract new viewers as well as inspire regular gallery goers.”

The Edinburgh-based textile and mixed media visual artist plans to take time out from her busy schedule to visit the exhibition at Drum soon.

Julia’s commitments include organising the Society of Scottish Artists’ Annual Exhibition of which she is co-ordinator. She also has plans to move to South West France and set up an artists’ retreat called Studio Faire and as a professional member of Visual Arts Scotland she will be creating new work for their upcoming annual exhibition.

Drum Castle is hosting the specially curated collection of modern art on loan from Aberdeen Art Gallery until March 2017. It is open Thursday-Monday from 11am-4 pm last entry and from October on Saturdays and Sundays from 11am-4pm last entry. Situated on the A93, Drum Castle is 10 miles west of Aberdeen.

Apr 032015
 

With thanks to Esther Green, Tricker PR.

NEWSLINE MEDIA LIMITED

Dr Alison Burke, Drum Castle Property Manager with the haunting image ‘Gallowgate Lard’ by Ken Currie in the background.

The £30 million redevelopment of Aberdeen Art Gallery has led to an innovative collaboration bringing contemporary art to an historic country castle.

The National Trust for Scotland’s Drum Castle at Drumoak, Aberdeenshire, is hosting key pieces of contemporary art from Aberdeen Art Gallery while the city centre attraction undergoes a major refurbishment.

Works from the city’s collection are being temporarily homed in a specially created gallery at the castle now open to the public  – part of a project to ensure works remain accessible to the public during the art gallery’s 18 month closure.

An area of the castle which has, until now, been unseen by the public has been specially adapted to host the works. The area, originally the castle’s long gallery, latterly the property manager’s accommodation, has been transformed into a museum-standard gallery and features more than 20 artworks on loan from the Aberdeen Art Gallery.

The curated selection is called ‘Human Presence’ and includes some of the gallery’s best known works, including ‘Gallowgate Lard’ by Ken Currie.

The exhibition will run for two years and complements the castle’s own artworks, including paintings by Joshua Reynolds and Henry Raeburn.

Drum Castle property manager Dr Alison Burke, said:

“When we found out that Aberdeen Art Gallery was going to be refurbished, and we were looking at developing a gallery space, we thought it would be amazing if we could bring some of the art work here.

“This is an exciting and innovative partnership. Drum dates back to 1323 and is one of the oldest intact castles in Scotland. Visitors can now take a journey from the art and artefacts of the old castle to our amazing new gallery with seminal artworks featuring mid to late 20th Century figurative painting and contemporary installation works on the theme of Human Presence.”

The Art Gallery redevelopment aims to transform Aberdeen Art Gallery and Cowdray Hall into a world class cultural centre, celebrating art and music in the North-east, and to provide a focal point for the creative industries and Aberdeen’s Cultural Quarter. The Art Gallery is due to reopen in 2017.

The partnership with Drum, alongside projects at Aberdeen’s Maritime and Tolbooth Museums, play a major part in keeping art in the public eye during the refurbishment works, says Deputy Leader of Aberdeen City Council Councillor Marie Boulton.

She adds:

“By partnership working we are ensuring that the city’s collection will remain accessible to the public during the redevelopment.

“Aberdeen Art Gallery staff working with the National Trust for Scotland have led to an exhibition being created, which will show work from the city’s collection in a specially created gallery at Drum Castle.

Among the highlights of the exhibition is ‘Highly Sprung’ by Julia Douglas, a dress made from 12,000 clothes peg springs; ‘Gallowgate Lard’, a ghost-like portrait by Ken Currie; and ‘Restraining Coat II (Female)’ by Julie Roberts, a painting which implies a human presence with no body in it.

Drum Castle is located 10 miles west of Aberdeen off the A93. The castle is set in extensive grounds with walks, picnic area, an historic rose garden, adventure play area, tearoom and shop. Normal castle admission charges apply.

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Aug 172012
 

As crucial Aberdeen City  Council votes loom large for the future of Union Terrace Gardens, Mike Shepherd considers the TIF business case and finds it lacking.

Just imagine you are the managing director of a big business.  An opportunity has come up to build a new development.

Private investors have promised you £70 million, but it means that you have to borrow £92 million and the government have said they could find £20 million of grant to fund the rest.
Half the shareholders are revolting as they think the venture looks far too risky and the existing company debt is humongous.

The time comes to make a decision on the investment and submit a business case for borrowing to the board of directors.  It turns out that the private investors can only come up with £55 million and now the grant funding has fallen through because the funds never existed in the first place.  

Calamity – the project now has a shortfall of £35 million.  What do you do?  The sensible thing would be to walk away.

Not Aberdeen Council.  I refer of course to the TIF business case written by council officials recommending that the council borrow £92 million for the redevelopment of Union Terrace Gardens and other city centre projects.

The final business case for TIF has been made public and will be voted on at the finance committee on Friday 17th August.
(The agenda for this meeting can be seen at http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=146&MId=2668 )

A critical reading of the report makes one thing obvious – they haven’t got all the money!

Yet, it hasn’t stopped council officials from producing a business case where the critical points are buried in waffle and padded out to 187 pages.

Out of the badly argued case (with assumptions, inconsistencies and dodgy data) emerges this conclusion on page 141:

Underpinning the TIF business case is the requirement for £182 million of investment in enabling infrastructure.  At present the business case shows that there is a commitment for £90 million of investment from the private sector and the need for £92 million of public sector investment.

However, there is a shortfall of £35 million on the public sector funding required for the project.

£70 million is recognised as the private sector investment in the quote above, yet they are £15 million short.  As page 46 notes:

This includes £55 million that has already been pledged to the City Garden Project by private donors and a further £15 million still to be raised.”

So where is this extra £15 million supposed to come from?  Page 50 records that:

“Aberdeen City Garden Trust will provide capital funding, act as developer for the City Garden project …  ACGT have also undertaken to raise a further £15 million of philanthropic donations, to supplement the £55 million already pledged to this project from philanthropic donations.”

The begging bowl is going out for £15 million.  Chaps, you have less than a week to get the money.

The remaining £20 million of, “investment from the private sector” comprises “potentially £20 million of grant funding” for an Art Gallery extension.   But does this money exist?

Further reference to page 50 shows that:

The remaining £20 million of grants is attached to the Aberdeen Art Gallery Project.  Officers will pursue a variety of grants to secure the required funds.”

Note the use of the future tense, “will pursue” here.

Council reports show that officers have yet to apply for any funding and, with the exception of a possible £4 million of Scottish Heritage Lottery funding, no other sources of money appear to have been identified.

So what happens if they don’t get the £20 million grant funding for the Art Gallery?

To page 50 again:

Should there be a funding gap officers will need to consider how additional funds will be attracted, generated or secured via other fiscal arrangements.

Anybody fancy a Monet, Turner or a Cezanne?  Going cheap …

This isn’t a business case, it’s a bankruptcy case.

Last year, in a discussion with a council official, I mentioned the possibility of the City Garden Project proving a financial disaster and bankrupting the council.  I was cheerfully told that a public body can’t, technically, go bankrupt although it can end up in a state that closely resembles it (Greece comes to mind).

But make no mistake, Aberdeen Council are going to get burnt here.  Councillors are being asked to vote on borrowing £92 million for a project where there is a very large shortfall on external funding and no guarantee that any of this money will ever turn up.

It would of course be sensible to delay the vote until the money does actually appear.  Yet there is an insanely mad rush to progress with this project, even if it doesn’t make any sense to do so.

What is not discussed anywhere is the mechanism by which Aberdeen Council will guarantee the loan

Another problem with the report is that no detailed costings for the various projects are given.  For example, the £140 million cost for the City Garden Project is a nominal cost from the original technical feasibility study written over three years ago. It is certainly not the final costing.

This means that councillors could be committing to a multi-million basket of projects with no clear provision of accurate costs.  I find this situation alarming and hope for our sake that they do so too.

So who takes the risk on the borrowing?  This is made clear on page 50:

“Aberdeen City Council also recognise that the risk sits with them.”

The report mentions that the borrowing would be from the Public Works Loan Board.  What is not discussed anywhere is the mechanism by which Aberdeen Council will guarantee the loan.

The Scottish Futures Trust, operating on behalf of the Scottish Government, have provided guidance as to how a TIF business case should be submitted to them.
See http://www.facebook.com/l/QAQE16FGI/scottishfutures.ehclientsTIF

In Section 4.4 it is stated that:

“Economic assessments to be carried out:

  • By an objective economist with a recognised track-record of economic assessment for public bodies”

On page 72 we find that Aberdeen City Gardens Trust is identified as providing:

“Core expertise to assist in a robust TIF business case in order to support ACC’s efforts.”

Let’s remind ourselves who Aberdeen City Gardens Trust are again by referring to page 46:

“ACGT will provide capital funding, act as developer for the City Garden Project …”

An earlier draft makes it clear that the advisors to the ACGT were also involved in providing critical input on economic uplift that is supposed to result from building the City Garden Project and related schemes.

Thus a private company seeking to take over a lease and operatorship of council property have been allowed to influence a report justifying the case for Aberdeen Council borrowing £70 million to fund a project that the company has a direct interest in.

In a statement published by the Press and Journal last Monday I wrote:

“The Council would most certainly not allow developers to provide direct input into a report recommending planning acceptance; so why is it appropriate to allow developers to provide economic advice to councillors when the outcome could clearly act in their favour?”

I have complained vigorously to the Chief Executive of the Council on this matter.  It is very bad governance.  I have also drawn this matter to the attention of the Council Monitoring Officer and asked her to investigate this.

Councillors will vote on Friday as to whether this business case is approved or not.

It would be sensible to delay the vote until the business case can be proved to be robust.  Aberdeen Council also needs to find an objective economist, someone who is not directly involved in the project, to give advice.

Otherwise madness would lie in approving the business case and exposing Aberdeen Council to financial disaster.

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Aug 162012
 

The growing coalition of groups opposed to the development of Union Terrace Gardens and the associated borrowing continues to grow; Kenneth Watt tells Aberdeen Voice about the young people of Aberdeen, who ultimatley will have to live with – and potentially pay for – the Granite Web, should it proceed.

A group of young people who are under 25 and live, work or are educated in Aberdeen handed an open letter on Wednesday 15 August 2012 to ACC leader Barney Crockett in an attempt to convince councillors to vote against the proposed £140,000,000 ‘Granite Web’ development on the grounds of an unsound financial case.

The group who formed over social media towards the end of last week are concerned about the £92m loan and use past cuts to education, social care and youth services as examples of why they believe Aberdeen City Council cannot afford this “financial gamble.”

Leading the group is Kenneth Watt, a youth councillor in the city. Kenneth says:

“We are making it clear to our elected members that there are significant numbers of young people who do not want to see our generation exposed to yet more cuts to services which we all rely on.”

“Last week’s reports of businesses in favour of the development turned out to be fictional and we are trying to show the people of Aberdeen that real young people will not sit back and watch the council gamble away our futures.”

“The £20m Art Gallery Grant in the business case, for instance, does not appear to exist. This would involve the council spending over £20m plugging the gap. That’s enough to rebuild a school, yet money is being invested in a project that is not needed.”

“We are urging councillors to say no to the City Garden Project and be realistic about finances. Our generation should not have to suffer more.”

“The simple message is this: the City Garden Project is too big a risk. Councillors need to put young people first.”

Read the content sof the letter here.

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