The Arches

Jun 12 2015 | By More

The Arches closure devastating for all Scottish theatre

The news that the Arches in Glasgow has gone into receivership and cancelled all future events with immediate effect from Wednesday 10 June 2015 is devastating, and not only for Glasgow’s theatre scene.

It is a body blow to the whole of Scottish theatre, one which will have repercussions all over the country and, it is not hyperbole to say, around the world.

This is the place to be to support the Arches. Click image for facebook page and further details.

This is the place to be to support the Arches. Click image for facebook page and further details.

Performing at the Arches is part of growing up as a Scottish theatre artist. Over the years it has become a place where you go to experiment and practise. It’s where you can play with ideas that might look foolish on the stage of the King’s, for example, but which give you the experience and wherewithal to get there.

For someone who wants to make theatre in Scotland, at whatever level, making something at the Arches is as important as being an usher in your local theatre for aspiring actors, or appearing in River City if you aspire to work in TV.

The list of people who have appeared there, benefited from doing so and thus benefited the whole of Scotland’s theatre life is long. Andrew Eaton Lewis talks about it on his website with much greater clarity than I could here: Why losing the Arches feels like grief.

The beauty of the Arches’ way of working is that the way it used its income from being a club venue allowed it to move beyond the constraints of its Creative Scotland funding. It got 51% of its £3.8m turnover from running clubs and 15% from Creative Scotland. Still a lot of funding, but only a part of its overall model.

The clubs are not just cash cows, either, but an intrinsic part of the vibe of the venue. Al Seed, who was performer in residence at the Arches for two years wrote about it in May, looking at theatre’s deep link with late night culture: The (Potential) Tragedy of the Arches.

Anyone in Scotland who considered themselves a connoisseur of dance music in the nineties will have been to the Arches at some point. It wasn’t just about dressing up at Love Boutique, it was where art and club culture came together. Here dance acts which had artistic pretensions could let rip.

And therein, of course, lies the problem. With the clubs come the drugs – or the perception of the drugs.

I used to write about club culture for both the Herald and the Scotsman back then, giving it a context and looking at where it changed from escapism into art form.

Travelling round the country and going into the back-room areas and DJ boxes of many club venues, drug use was intrinsic to the scene. When you went in to chat to the promoter, powders and pills would be in evidence. Usually quite discreetly – and certainly not offered to the press – but if you knew what to look for you could see the rituals of exchange and consumption being played out.

But even in the nineties, the Arches was never a very good place to take illegal substances. Although they were there, they were not backstage or in the DJ box as they were in other clubs. And thanks to particularly zealous bouncers they were not particularly in evidence on the dance floor.

Things have got even tighter in recent years and, with the tragedy of young life being lost, the focus has been on the Arches. The venue has, by all accounts, been as upfront and safe as it could possibly be.

The Arches has followed the letter of the law and reported every incident involving drugs – where most clubs just confiscate small quantities and throw the culprit out. So when it came to it, the licensing board found it very easy indeed to take away the venue’s lifeblood, its 3am licence.

So what is to be done?

Sadly, it appears that the powers that be have given up on the Arches as it stands – or stood. Support for the art produced at the Arches has been vocal and it was even mentioned in First Minister’s Questions on Thursday 10 June.

Fiona Hyslop, the cabinet secretary for culture in the Scottish Government has made a statement.

“The Arches has been a powerhouse of culture and arts activity over the past twenty four years. Its arts programme has made an important contribution to cultural life in Scotland, and its reputation as a place for creative innovation and ground breaking performance is well deserved and recognised at home and internationally.”

Very good. She has met with Janet Archer, boss of Creative Scotland, she talks of the money which has gone into the venue (including £3.8m capital funding), she mentions what resources might be available to the 133 staff who have been made redundant. Yes, 133 people are employed there.

Yet she talks not of the venue itself, but the artistic activities: “Creative Scotland are continuing to work with The Arches and Glasgow City Council/Glasgow Life to see how those artistic activities, which clearly inspired so many of our artists, can continue.”

It is clear from all reports from those who have appeared at the Arches, have made work there, have danced there, have watched theatre there, have seen weird and wonderful live art installations there, have taken part in debates and lived their art there, that all these things are part and parcel of the venue itself.

Yes, there will almost certainly need to be evolution – The Arches has been evolving for all its life, changing and mutating, (which is part of what has made it so wonderful) – but those who are in power and debating the future of the venue need to understand that you can not divorce the two, the art and the place.

For the moment, it seems that everyone who can, should show their support for the venue by attending the #SaveTheArches lobby at the  Glasgow Licensing Board meeting on Friday 26 June, 9am. It’s at the back of Glasgow City Council Chambers, 45 John Street, Glasgow G2 1DU.


#SaveTheArches lobby at the  Glasgow Licensing Board meeting
Friday 26 June 2015: 9am
45 John Street, Glasgow G2 1DU.
(At the back of Glasgow City Council Chambers)
Lobby Facebook page:


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