THE famous Summerhall arts venue in Edinburgh is set to become the location of a major new development in the artistic landscape, not only of the city, but of Scotland as a whole.

Under plans announced last week, the iconic venue (which is housed in the former zoology department of the University of Edinburgh) will house a new, multi-arts charitable organisation titled Summerhall Arts.

The organisation – which will be run by a team of experienced figures in the Scottish arts, led by CEO Sam Gough – is pledged to “deliver vital support and opportunities to local and national creative arts practitioners and inspire, challenge and engage artists, audiences, and the community, whilst making a lasting contribution to the cultural fabric of Edinburgh and beyond”.

An "artistic strategy"

The founders of the ambitious project promise an “artistic strategy” that will comprise: a receiving house for Scottish touring theatre and performance; a home for new performance and new writing; a professional artist development programme, which will include artist residencies and artist showcases; a mentoring and professional development programme; visual arts exhibitions; installations; a cinema programme; a programme of local live music; and a strand promoting inter-disciplinary arts and community engagement.

In the current environment, in which funding cuts and inflation have sent the creative budgets of many Scottish arts organisations into crisis, any one of these projects would be welcome news. The announcement of such an ambitious and diverse series of projects is a source of considerable hope for Scotland’s beleaguered arts sector.

Taking to Facebook, Ben Harrison (artistic director of Edinburgh-based theatre company Grid Iron) wrote: “This is exactly what our city needs. Wishing Sam Gough and all at Summerhall Arts all [the] best and much success with this exciting new venture.”

The Summerhall Arts announcement comes amidst continued uncertainty over the future of the building that once housed the Edinburgh Filmhouse, the major independent cinema which closed down, along with its parent company the Centre for the Moving Image, in October of last year.

The announcement of a cinema programme at Summerhall will be welcomed by the city’s film lovers.

READ MORE: Edinburgh Filmhouse: Major step forward in bid to revive cinema

Throughout Scotland there has, over recent months and years, been a growing sense of despair about the long-term damage that years of funding cuts and freezes have done to the infrastructure of the Scottish arts. The losses go far wider than the closure of the Edinburgh Filmhouse and its sister organisations the Belmont cinema, Aberdeen and the Edinburgh International Film Festival (the latter of which was salvaged in 2023, albeit on a smaller scale, thanks to the intervention of the Edinburgh International Festival).

Late last year, Modern 2 (the second gallery of Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art) closed for a period because even the august institution that is the Scottish National Galleries didn’t have sufficient funds to meet burgeoning electricity and gas prices. The crisis has been felt keenly in the theatre sector, too.

At Perth Theatre, for example – despite a recent, handsome redevelopment of the building – it has been announced that the now departed artistic director, Lu Kemp, is not going to be replaced. This raises the possibility of the Fair City’s much loved playhouse becoming little more than a receiving venue.

In Glasgow, as Andy Arnold announced his departure as artistic director, after 15 years at the famous Tron Theatre, he sounded the alarm about the future of both the Tron and Scottish theatre more generally. Talking to the Sunday National, he condemned Glasgow City Council’s decision to withdraw municipal funding from the theatre entirely (after 30 years of continuous support) as “scandalous”.

Arnold welcomed First Minister Humza Yousaf’s announcement at this year’s SNP conference that the threatened £6.6 million cut to the budget of arts funding body Creative Scotland would be dropped, to be replaced by a £100 million investment in the arts over five years. However, he warned that, due to inflation and static or reduced funding over recent years, the Tron and other theatre organisations would still find themselves with smaller budgets for making work than they had 10 years ago.

Announcing the Summerhall Arts initiative, CEO Gough acknowledged the prevailing sense of despondency within the Scottish arts community.

“There is a moment just before it’s too late, that if nothing is done at that point, all you can then do is stand by and watch what is treasured become lost,” he said.

“I think that pivotal moment is now,” he added. He declared the intention of Summerhall Arts to create a thriving “arts village” at a time when “everyone [in the Scottish Arts] is cutting back and being more cautious about how many and whom they support”.

The Edinburgh organisation is, he concluded, “looking to enable so much more, bring it all under one roof and give the incredibly talented artists in Scotland more opportunities to be able to compete on the world stage”.