Relocation – not closure – plans for gallery

SENIOR Labour politicians within Falkirk Council this week spoke out about plans for Falkirk’s Park Gallery and expressed concern at a "misleading" campaign, headed by a Glasgow-based artist and opposition politicians.

Last month (Sept), the Council’s leisure, tourism and community committee, agreed to relocate the Park Gallery in Falkirk’s Callendar Park to space inside the A-listed Callendar House from April next year. The matter will be debated by the full Council next week.

The current gallery facility, housed in a small outbuilding, has no toilet and restroom facilities for staff. Figures for 2008/2009 year show the gallery attracted 4145 visitors in the year. A total of 28,268 people visited Callendar House in the same period.

Administration figures believe attendances at the gallery could be boosted with a move to Callendar House. Part-time staff, who currently work alone in the present gallery building, would also have the support of Callendar House colleagues – and access to on-site toilets and other facilities.

Councillor Adrian Mahoney, the convener of leisure, tourism and community at Falkirk Council, said: "People are being asked to sign an online petition protesting at a ‘closure’. We want to relocate the Park Gallery from its home in a small outbuilding within Callendar Park to the main Callendar House, an A-listed building which attracts around seven times as many visitors each year. This isn’t a closure."

Councillor Mahoney said the online petition, launched by former Callendar House artist in residence Janie Nicoll, was misleading.

"Urging anyone online to sign up, Ms Nicoll claims it would be ‘almost impossible’ to host the Park Gallery’s artworks in Callendar House. In fact, Callendar House is already used for art exhibitions – the annual Winter Warmth exhibition is partly-housed within Callendar House. And, of course, some of the best galleries in Scotland are located within historic buildings; often sharing spaces with museums."

Council leader Linda Gow said: "The proposal agreed by the committee was not to close the Park Gallery but to move it into Callendar House.

"The Council looked at this matter not only as a budget consideration but also because of the drawbacks of the current venue. It is quite a small venue, comprising two adjoining with low headroom. This has restricted the range and scale of professional exhibitions which can be shown. It also lacks storage and staff facilities, which again has placed restrictions on workshops and other activities. A larger venue with good ancillary facilities would allow a higher profile for exhibitions and activities."

Provost Pat Reid, who represents the ward covered by the Park Gallery, said he had received only two objections to the Park Gallery relocation proposal. "One of them was from someone who lived outside the area," he said.

He added: "I think a move into the House will enhance provision. It is elitist to say that we need only dedicated galleries to show art. Some of the best exhibitions I’ve seen recently have been work by local primary and secondary school children at the Camelon Education Centre, from students at Falkirk College and the artwork for the 2008 Mod, displayed in the gallery at Falkirk Town Hall. The local Art Club and local disabled artists have their annual exhibitions at the Town Hall as well. All of those exhibitions were incredibly popular and very good."

Labour figures also said it was strange to see SNP councillors urge people to sign Janie Nicoll’s online petition.

In April, former SNP leisure convener Councillor Tom Coleman criticised the artists in residence project – in particular a project in which Ms. Nicoll took pictures of dogs in Callendar Park. The controversy was reported in The Falkirk Herald. Councillor Coleman was reported as saying: "What it boils down to is the quality of the material and the quality of the idea. In this case, it scores nil points."

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