Posts tagged ‘City of Culture’

Feb 9, 2018

Aberdeen City Council has shown itself not fit for purpose. Whatever that purpose may be. Art Gallery? What Art Gallery etc.

And now Aberdeen City Council’s hapless and hopeless crew of Labour and Tories with assorted others making up the numbers have announced Aberdeen Art Gallery will not reopen until 2019. If the situation were not so serious it would be laughable. There’s little doubt that this council is one of the worst in the 1000 year history of the city of Aberdeen. 


Art Gallery shut since 2015
Cowdray Hall shut since 2015
Remembrance Hall shut since 2015
Provost Skene’s House shut since 2015
Music Hall shut since 2016

24 June 2009
Aberdeen City Council agreed in principle to support the redevelopment of the Art Gallery.
No financial implications were forecast as the Marguerite McBey Trust attached to the Art Gallery would be used to fund the cost of c. £20 million along  with funds raised through Heritage Lottery grants and additional fundraising.
It was estimated the cost of storage for collections during the redevelopment would cost around £1.6 million.

11 Sept 2009
Aberdeen puts in a bid for UK City of Culture 2013.

Nov 2009
The £20 million Art Gallery project, part-funded by the McBey Trust is announced.
A team of experts is established to oversee the redevelopment.
Glasgow architects Gareth Hoskins chosen to design changes to make the Gallery ‘fit-for-purpose’ – as the jargon goes. Fit for purpose in the 21st century, presumably.

Plans will also improve the Cowdray Hall.

Aberdeen withdraws its bid to become the UK’s City of Culture for 2013 due to council finances.

Development Studies came up with different approaches.
Option A: minimal c £15.7 million.
Option B: backpack c £18.4 million.
Option C: outside the box c £23.8 million.
Option D: outside the box c £24.3 million.
Option E: extending into RGU Gray’s School of Art c £22.7 million + site purchase

29 Nov 2012
Estimated cost of the project £33 million over the next 4 financial years: £30 million for the Art Gallery + £3 million to create a facility to house the museum collections.
Aberdeen City Council to make imminent application for Heritage Lottery Funding of £10 million.
It confirmed £3 million from the council’s non housing capital programme 2013-14 and £10 million from the same programme 2013-17.
The Council guaranteed up to £10 million to meet any shortfall in fundraising.

The redevelopment is to be the cornerstone of the Council’s City of Culture bid 2017.

26 February 2013
Aberdeen bids to become UK City of Culture 2017.

city culture nae vision

City of Culture bid fails.

Aberdeen’s City of Culture bid – a lesson in mediocrity

18 December 2013
Redesign plans for Aberdeen Art Gallery approved by councillors.

19 June 2014
Design work completed . Planning and listed building permission approved.
Finance, Policy and Resources Committee approved estimated cost of £30 million for construction, demolitions, enabling, new build, building, exhibition fit outs, design team, surveys, furniture and fittings, contingencies and inflation.
Projected opening after redevelopment 2017.
Instructs proposal to go to out to tender with deadline of January 2015.

18 February 2015
Meeting of the Council’s Finance, Policy and Resources Committee report that the Marguerite McBey Trust supported the redevelopment, to the tune of £50,000 per annum for 3 years to fund a fundraising officer to oversee the refurbishment project.

‘5.2 By contracting an independent specialist fundraising consultancy, the Council obtained guidance on how best to seek external financial support. This includes how to undertake a fundraising campaign, the categories of prospective donors (for example, trusts, charities, corporate social responsibility, personal and general public donations), the sequencing of when and how to fundraise. As part of the consultancy, approaches were made to ascertain the level of interest in the redevelopment, as well as understand other issues which might influence whether interest could be capitalised into donations, or other contributions. ‘

27 February 2015
“A councillor is confident money will be raised for the refurbishment of Aberdeen Art Gallery – but has said some donors want to remain anonymous due to planning issues in the city.”
“Cllr Marie Boulton said the project would be held in ‘great esteem.'”

Aberdeen Art Gallery shuts its doors.


25 August 2015
Contractor appointed for the £30 million redevelopment.
Completion date: winter 2017.

31 Aug 2016
Designers Hoskins Architects, Glasgow website featured the interior of the newly refurbished Art Gallery, Cowdray Hall and Remembrance Hall.

As you can see by the illustrations this includes glazed panels on the roof of the extension to the Gallery. Perhaps they don’t know in Glasgow but Aberdeen has gulls, lots and lots of gulls who need to poop.

Cllr Marie Boulton didn’t offer her view on the impact of seagull poop on a glass roof in Aberdeen but she did describe the development as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve something really special for Aberdeen by forming a world-class cultural centre.

Completion of the works due 2017.

Feb 2017
Press reports of “vastly underestimated” cost of the museum collections centre – Aberdeen Treasure Hub.
Initially projected to cost £3.6 million late in 2014 costs were still being calculated in 2016 but by then they had nearly doubled to £6.5 million.

Apparently “the scope of the project was inaccurately defined and vastly underestimated the cost of the project.”
Not only that but those behind the scoping had not engaged with the insurance team at the start of the project and consequently the insurance provider refused the fire suppression system which was designed and installed.

Public money, huh?
Criminal negligence.

The Council’s response – it learnt a number of lessons for future projects.

I wouldn’t bank on it.

The Council thought the public would have money pouring in to make up the funding gap. It didn’t.
I heard that after performances of the panto over Christmas that buckets were produced for collections among the audience so that work on the Music Hall could continue.
Can this be right?
I haven’t mentioned the music Hall fiasco yet.

The severity of the shortfall in funding Aberdeen’s regeneration of the Art Gallery, Cowdray Hall, Remembrance Hall, Music Hall and Provost Skene’s House has led to council staff flogging raffle tickets at £2 a time. Fellow staff are being encouraged to buy them.
It is unseemly and bizarre and exceptionally unprofessional approach to public works.

art gallery raffle

SNP Cllr Nicoll:

“I wonder if the next public art installation in Aberdeen will just be a pile of burning cash.”

Culture is draining away in Aberdeen as it is on the rise in Dundee with the magnificent and truly innovative V & A on top of other attractions on that city’s water front.
Aberdeen has cancelled its very popular and long-standing International Youth Festival and it looks as it doesn’t have a future. Just wait, another city will take up this initiative and have it running before Aberdeen councillors can utter the words, we are applying to become the City of Culture in …

1 Feb 2018
Meeting of the Finance committee. Request to identify more funding “for the additional costs” of the redevelopment.
Just what these are is anyone’s guess because everything related to the Art Gallery redevelopment has just become top secret.

I asked Ross Thomson MP (backed by Independent Alliance Councillor Marie Boulton – see above) if he could answer 4 questions relating to the Art Gallery Provost Skene’s House developments.
1: the reason for the over-run of the refurbishment
2: the problems which have led to the over-run
3: the current state of finance for the projects
4: when councillors were made aware of the problems leading to this state of affairs.

What I eventually got in response from a member of Thomson’s staff was hardly illuminating and little short of a council PR statement –

“Aberdeen Art Gallery (AAG) is the jewel in the crown of Aberdeen’s cultural offer …
As is to be expected with such works on buildings of the sensitivity, age, history and complexity of AAG, some challenges have emerged during the construction process. The Council, the project manager, contract administrator and contractor have been working hard to address these challenges and reduce any impact in financial terms and to reduce in delay in the Gallery’s re-opening. Although, the project programme has slipped as a result this is being managed. and it is anticipated that the AAG will reopen in early 2019. The resulting budgetary impact is currently being discussed and is at a commercially sensitive stage.”

Now wouldn’t you have thought that a contractor would have done a analysis report before pricing a job in an old building?
What are the ‘challenges’ aside from the cash?
Who is responsible for not anticipating these ‘challenges’?

“Given the complexities of the project and to ensure that it is delivered to the highest standards, the Council, earlier in 2017, appointed Faithful and Gould to project manage the refurbishment of AAG.  This investment of resource and management shows the Council’s commitment to successful delivery.”

So to be clear a company called Faithful and Gould were appointed to project manage the redevelopment in 2017? Who was project managing before then and are they being held responsible for the utter shambles this exercise has been?
Is it incompetency that has led to the increased costs and delays?
And when will the Gallery, Cowdray Hall and Remembrance Hall re-open?

Meanwhile place yourself in the position of a visitor to Aberdeen – no Art Gallery, no Cowdray Hall, no Music Hall, no Provost Skene’s House. If it wasn’t so serious the mess this council has landed the city in would be laughable.


16th century building, Aberdeen’s oldest.  Let’s hide it behind tons and tons of concrete.

Ross Thompson’s staff email continues:

“The Council committed investment in PSH when it allocated £1.5m in September, 2016 to facilitate its refurbishment. A project was developed to secure a new attraction, focused around people from the North East who helped transform the wider world, and supporting enabling works for this. Such a project fits with the desire to promote PSH as relevant to Aberdeen and integrate it with the Marischal Square development.

In developing the project through the autumn of 2016 and into 2017, it became apparent that the condition challenges facing PSH had not been readily apparent at project commencement due to restricted access as PSH sat within the Marischal Square development site. In taking the project forward, it was important to understand these challenges in order to ensure that refurbishment would be to the standard required and that any works would ensure that PSH was fit for purpose over the next 30-40 years. Consequently, Adams Napier Partnership was commissioned to undertake a full and comprehensive condition survey which reported in June 2017. This established that there were a range of urgent, necessary and desirable works required to the building fabric.”

PSH is Provost Skene’s House. According to Thomson’s staff there were things which came to light only late in 2016-17
“due to restricted access as PSH sat within the Marischal Square development site.”
Except Skene’s House has been there for over 400 years. It isn’t as though it sneaked away so contractors couldn’t get into its gubbins.

Then he gets to the nub of Council speak “fit for purpose” that get-out clause.
So in June 2017 another company was contracted to survey PSH. I’m beginning to see how this mess has grown into one helluva expensive mess.

This recent scrutiny of the 400 year old building found it in need of “urgent, necessary and desirable works.”

Not surprised given the pile driving that had gone on month after month after month next to a fragile and historically valuable ancient building. 

March 2017
Work on Provost Skene’s House won’t be delayed said Aberdeen City Council.

skenes wont be delayed
Oops factor – as part of the development of PSH one contract was valued at under £50,000 which meant work could be approved quickly. However all quotes came back over £50,000 which meant the tendering process kicked in …blah blah blah… delays “with consequence for the anticipated opening in parallel with Marischal Square in July 2017” said a council spokesperson/robot.

Provost Skene’s House – the under £50K work shot up to £84,700.

On 11 December 2017 the Press & Journal published what was claimed to be shocking photos from within Skene’s House.

psh shocking
This 16th century building, with no foundations, has taken a helluva pounding over months as the concrete monstrosity of Marischal Square has risen up around it.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Yuill spoke of his shock at the lack of protection provided during the building works of the ancient painted ceilings and panels.

It is hardly appropriate to use the term responsible when seeking to discover who at Aberdeen City Council is behind years of chaos and cultural delinquency. Their actions are wholly irresponsible. And profoundly unprofessional.

skenes no danger work

In response to Cllr Yuill’s concerns a council spokesperson denied there was ever any risk. Who was this anonymous person and what is their expertise on preserving art?
I think we should be told but perhaps that information has also been locked up in the secret drawer.

skenes over budget

Nov 2017
Re work on Provost Skene House.
Cllr Lumsden (Conservative and Unionist) said, “It’s a case of the project almost has to start again.. The business case has been done now but there are new costs that need to go to committee for approval. The costs that were done a few years ago were unrealistic; it was costing up a Hall of Heroes.”

Hall of Heroes, huh? Precious few of them in the council chamber.
It transpires the council is looking for a – what’s the term? A yes, fit for propose attraction – not a councillor then?
Three years on and the hapless council is still waiting for the project to be properly scoped. “and know exactly what we are going to do.” !!!

skenes delayed

Oops – little bit damage to Provost Skene’s it appears.


It’s like groundhog day as work on Provost Skenes’ House has ‘almost to start again’ and the new provisional re-opening date is 2019. Well past the opening of Marischal Square – which I believe hasn’t yet opened although it is now February 2018. I don’t know because I don’t go near that horrible and misbegotten development. I am, however, planning a visit to Dundee’s wonderful and creative waterfront V & A which has emerged over the same time-frame as Aberdeen’s extension hasn’t. 


Dundee’s V & A

Aberdeen City Council has proved itself not fit for purpose. Whatever that purpose may be.

Art Gallery shut since 2015 may re-open 2019
Cowdray Hall shut since 2015 may re-open 2019
Remembrance Hall shut since 2015 may re-open 2019
Provost Skene’s House shut since 2015 – think of a date
Music Hall shut since 2016 —see below

Don’t laugh but …

music hall murder.jpg

The Music Hall upgrade scheduled to finish in December 2017 has been pushed back to later 2018.  This is later 2018 I expect it will open imminently.


Oh, and there’s this –



Jul 22, 2013

Aberdeen’s City of Culture Bid: A Lesson in Mediocrity

Aberdeen’s bid to become UK City of Culture 2017 fell at the first hurdle and has provided the  current Labour administration’s rent-a-quote councillor  Willie Young to jab an angry finger once again in the direction of the Scottish government.

22sept2012 053For those of you unfamiliar with Silly Willie to say he has a bee in his bunnet is an understatement. Each travail affecting the city of Aberdeen can be traced back to shortcomings of the Scottish government in Willie’s opinion. Sometimes he may be correct. On this occasion he is not.

If Willie Young paused for breath just one moment and read the City of Culture judges’ report on the Aberdeen bid he might actually learn a thing or two which could just help Aberdeen in any future bid, or at the very least help the city to tackle its cultural deficiencies.

The major failing referred to by the Bid judges was not the low base from which the city would begin to grow its cultural activities – and Willie Young’s point that Aberdeen fails again and again to get fair central government funding (this happened when Labour was in charge at Holyrood as well) which necessarily limits its cultural life – but the dearth of ideas submitted by those involved in Aberdeen City Council’s bid – criticised for their limited expertise; lack of coherent vision and having  no wow factor.

This is pretty damning and far from spluttering about the Holyrood government Willie Young and his colleagues who agree with him should look closer to home – to the people given the responsibility of developing a programme of ideas worthy of a city of culture and who have been shown to be, well mediocre.

Now this is not to say nothing of note goes on in Aberdeen. The city plays host to lots of great cultural activities and it has outstanding museums and an excellent art gallery which is innovative in its exhibition programme.  There is a thriving artist community and community arts. The theatre often has shows and plays from London’s west end although it has to be said that too often the same ones appear year after year. There is quite a bit of criticism of the city’s main theatre for its tendency to go back to old favourites.  

But back to the bid. Judges concluded that:

‘Despite the potentially compelling need and offer to Aberdeen’s bid, it does not deliver a compelling case in terms of vision or deliverability.’

That is less than complimentary to those with responsibility for drawing up the bid. And it is clear the issue had little to do with the current state of culture in Aberdeen but an unfortunate paucity of ideas for sustaining a year of innovative cultural events.  

Sad isn’t it – and an indictment of those chosen to lead the bid.

When I heard Aberdeen’s Bid Manager was to be Rita Stephen I did raise an eyebrow. She has been around at the council in various capacities for a long time but what, I wondered, does she know about culture?

Not much it transpired.

I groaned when I learned she was surprised at just how much was happening in the arts in the city. Well she shouldn’t have been. The impression given was that Ms Stephen was not familiar with Aberdeen’s cultural life or why would she be surprised? And if she wasn’t someone involved at some level in the cultural scene in the city then why was she put in charge of a bid of this kind?

The reason was surely that Rita Stephen has been at the centre of the council’s economic links with private business for a long time and she was until the bid job came up development manager at Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Forum (ACSEF) who were behind the disastrous plan to cement over the unique Union Terrace Gardens.

Of the bid she said:

‘The whole process for us is about making sure everyone in this city has access to art and that Aberdeen becomes a creative city.’

What does this mean? Currently everyone does have access to art, if they choose. There are no charges in the first-rate Art Gallery or museums and there are various community arts projects which take place, well in communities around the city.  So what did she mean?

If she envisaged, as it appears those who cobbled together this bid did, that Aberdeen 2017 would be built on community arts projects with the opera Madam Butterfly thrown in for the high brows then it’s no wonder the judges were quick to throw out their dull plan.

If you judge success by the numbers participating then what does that say about quality? How good, how exciting, how worthwhile are the events? What about people who choose not to participate? Will this be seen as a failure? Why should it be?  I’m fairly arty and middle class but take my sister-in-law – she would not thank you for levering her out of her seat at the bingo to sit through a performance of Madam Butterfly and neither would she be interested in any community arts scheme to paint shop shutters in her neighbourhood. It is not that my sister-in-law does not know what is going on, she’s not interested. And there’s no reason why she should be.

I am perplexed by Rita Stephen’s remark that :

‘We see the bid as a catalyst to bring Aberdeen’s culture back into the sunlight, because it has been hugely overshadowed by the city’s reputation as an oil and gas capital.’

This is nonsensical. The wealth that there is in the city should have been just the catalyst for the arts not a reason for their demise. The fact that oil companies have failed to put anything back into the city, other than jobs, is a well-rehearsed argument in these parts and it ill becomes Ms Stephen whose work has involved her directly with the very business people in the energy sector, mainly hugely wealthy, who have failed to invest in the cultural life of the city to any degree.

Rita Stephen cannot get away from her economic background. She emphasises the shortage of workers, sorry employees – no-one is a worker anymore – in Aberdeen which boasts very high employment.  To win the City of Culture bid would be the perfect means of attracting more people into the area and so increase the supply of potential employees.

She wants to anchor business in the city. Well here’s the bottom line Rita Stephen, business will stay in the city as long as the area has sufficiently profitable business opportunities – as it has now – and has had for over forty years sans culture. (I exaggerate) And a few more murals on shop shutters is never going to be the deciding factor.

‘The ethos of the bid is in economic necessity.’

Is the cultural emphasis being lost here to the interests of the industry that Rita Stephen knows so well?

Among other unhelpful remarks was one from Councillor Marie Bolton who said,

‘We have a huge wealth of culture, but it’s all under the surface. This will give us the opportunity to start people talking. They’re beginning to get involved in such cultural offerings as music, arts, drama and food. It’s seeing the greater population actually starting to get engaged.’

Yes well she is a politician and probably doesn’t know that arts is a collective term which takes in music and drama – though strangely not food. Maybe she was thinking about art. Maybe not.

I see what the bid judges mean by saying the vision of the bid group was limited. They wanted more opera, more dance, more music, more theatre but precious little detail emerged in their proposals. Still they had worn out the handbook of council workers, sorry employees, clichés for filling in bid forms.  Lots of:

aspirations, driving forward, transform our communities, cultural identity, community cohesion, renewed engagement with culture,  help close the gap between rich and poor

Oh it takes me back

beacon for culture,  a magnet, an anchor, regenerated communities, fundamentally change people’s perceptions, cultural confidence, bold vision, shared vision, culturally vibrant city.


STOP! Enough of this empty rhetoric.

The bid goes on to say that regrettably Aberdeen does not feel like the ‘vibrant city it should be’ which is strange because Aberdeen’s cultural vanguard has been ‘driving forward’ Aberdeen as a ‘vibrant city’ for a long long time. Clearly they’ve failed.

Anyone remember Vibrant Aberdeen2010-15? No?

key drivers

I said stop. Enough of the pen-pushers’ guide to positive terms guaranteed to enhance any funding application.  We’ve all been there. All done that.

 new opportunities, the city already getting behind the bid, the process is already creating a “buzz”

Just over 700 on its Facebook page last time I checked (only time I checked). So less of a buzz more of a zzzzzz then.

empower collaborative thinking and planning, key strategic partnerships, empower partnerships, embedded in the ACSEF Economic Action Plan, Aberdeen Inspired, the city’s Business Improvement District, there is an appetite for culture in Aberdeen

Aye. Read that how you like.

Aberdeen is unique in the UK

Oh yes so it is and so is every city – unique. Aberdeen is unique in the world, in the universe.

Our vision is bold, ambitious and unusual

Unusual?  So it is.

Aberdeen can be an illuminating beacon

Uhu. Maybe not quite yet. Anyway I think I’ve done that one already. Must have picked up His Majesty’s Theatre syndrome.

Aberdeen saw its bid as different as it had –

 potential to make a cultural impact that is well beyond the reach of any other regional UK city

Only words. And meaningless words at that.

There were attempts to pin down what their vision was:

local engagement – does this mean community centres ? and learning partnerships  and not least they were taking the Aberdeen public on a journey.

Think we were all being taken for a ride.

It’s easy to scoff. It is true that Aberdeen is largely ignored by the Scottish, never mind UK cultural media. BBC Scotland has an appalling reputation in this regard and the bid quotes the Arts Commissioning Editor of The Herald saying he had not visited the city in 25 years. That is a disgrace and born of central belt ignorance and laziness. There is a view that while other parts of Scotland, indeed the UK, will shout and make a lot of noise about very little Aberdeen and northeasters in general are far more self-deferential and not given to bumming themselves up.

There is more than a hint of this in the Aberdeen bid.

  • Storytelling: traditional and singing – Aberdeen’s story of fishing, granite and oil and the Doric and the city’s international residents.
  • Working with school kids.
  • Connecting to the rest of the world. Aberdeen – Japan link through Blake Glover  hence  performances of Madam Butterfly, Japanese movies, a symposium on Japans influence on western culture, student exchanges.
  • World acclaimed theatre directors involved in new productions.

Are you persuaded?

And the city’s cultural and artistic strength?

  • The city
  • Our education sector
  • Festivals and events
  • Literature
  • Tradition and heritage
  • Visual arts and crafts
  • Performance
  • Music
  • Film, media and new technology


For anyone involved in culture in Aberdeen over the last two decades most of the above is familiar territory. It may be that the same personnel are involved today as they were then and so fresh ideas are thin on the ground. What they offer is a well-trodden path albeit dressed up in inspirational lingo – although not that different come to think of it.

Vision? Vibrant? There’s nothing to show that it is.

Click on culture on Aberdeen City Council’s website and it mentions ‘high quality arts and cultural activity’

22sept2012 014

When you scroll down to SEVENTEEN it refers to the need for ‘a central space for artists and arts organisations’, ‘an information point for residents and visitors’, ‘workshop space for artists and arts organsiations’ – is this different from the ‘central space’? and ‘a flexible meeting and networking space for the arts sector’

All necessary I’m sure but not very ambitious.

The bid’s community arts mentality was never going to hack it for the City of Culture 2017 and unless Willie Young, Rita Stephen et al actually pause to consider and address their shortcomings then Aberdeen’s cultural life will bob along as it has been doing but won’t be wowing the world with its creative originality any time soon.