Investment in culture fuels regeneration in Scotland

With £270m of investment under way or planned at Scottish museums and galleries, Dundee and Paisley hope to reap the benefits that Glasgow did
Caroline Parry
Investment in the arts by local and national government, and a belief in using culture for regeneration, are driving the boom in museum and gallery development in Scotland.

Last month, 10 galleries dedicated to the decorative arts, fashion, design and science and technology opened at Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland (NMS). This £14.1m project is the latest phase of an £80m masterplan to update the building, while transforming the museum and how its collection is displayed.

There are several major development and refurbishment projects in the planning stage or under way at Scottish museums and galleries, accounting for more than £270m of investment.

These include the £80m outpost of the Victoria and Albert Museum being built in Dundee; the £60m-£65m refurbishment of Glasgow’s Burrell Collection; the £30m overhaul of Aberdeen Art Gallery; and Paisley’s £56.7m plan to redevelop its museum.

East Lothian’s Museum of Flight reopened in March after a £3.6m refurbishment, while Glasgow’s £35m Kelvin Hall redevelopment as a collections, teaching and research centre is due for completion this autumn.

Regeneration is key

Stephen Greenberg, the director and founder of exhibitions and masterplanning specialist Metaphor, which worked on the NMS project, says: “What these schemes have in common is that they are about regeneration. The idea of culture in Scotland and what it means to be Scottish cuts right across class and politics.”

James Robinson, the director of Glasgow’s Burrell Collection, says the seeds were sown about 40 years ago.

“There was a desire to reinvent the city, which had been battered in the post-industrial era,” he says. “Success breeds success and what has been achieved at NMS and what Paisley hopes to achieve follows the success of Kelvingrove and Riverside. It is remarkable what has happened in Glasgow because there is a great conviction that museums are relevant agents of cultural change.”

It is 10 years since the landmark refurbishment of Kelvingrove breathed new life into the much-loved Glasgow institution. The £28m scheme not only updated the fabric of the crumbling building, but also reimagined how the collection was displayed.

Martin Bellamy, the research and curatorial manager at Glasgow Museums, says: “There were three million visitors in the first year, two million in the second and it has now settled at just over a million. It was a reoccupation of the building by the residents of Glasgow.”

He admits that although Kelvingrove was completed on a tight budget, it was an easier funding environment then.

But he says good projects still get supported. “It happens if people want it to happen,” adds Bellamy. “You have to get the politics sorted before you can get the funding sorted.”

He points to Dundee, where there is a strong political commitment to regenerating the city.
But with so much museum development planned in Scotland, is a saturation point being approached?

A spokesperson for Renfrewshire Council says: “While we appreciate Scotland has a thriving and growing museum scene, we believe our project [Paisley Museum] will complement, rather than compete with, the existing offer.”

Robinson says: “Healthy competition is a good thing. But it is in the spirit of collaboration, as that is better for everyone.”

The Museums Association Conference and Exhibition is in Glasgow this year, 7-9 November

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