RIP The Lighthouse. Welcome, some other Design/Creative place?

by Julian Westaby.

As the beam is turned off at The Lighthouse, Scotland’s ultra-expensive, one-time exemplar for design excellence, another Glasgow ‘centre of creativity’ opens, less than a mile away! Now, pedants could argue that there’s a big difference between ‘design’ and ‘creativity’ but the closing of one £multi-million ‘venue’ to be replaced by a pretty similar (and no doubt rather expensive) one along the road, it could be seen at best as bad planning, at worst as an incredible bloody waste of public money.

Creativity is how we make our living, so we’re not suggesting for a moment that we shouldn’t have incredibly exciting centres of burgeoning creativity in Scotland’s biggest cities. Of COURSE we should, it just seems that the timing’s erm…a wee bit embarrassing? The City fathers have known that The Lighthouse’s ‘coat has been on a shaky nail’ for ages, probably years. So, whilst the assembled creative/arts/design mandarins were wringing their hands, worrying what to do with this perceived White Elephant and stringing together all sorts of rescue packages, there was ANOTHER similar innovative design/creative space being planned, just a wee stroll away, down The Trongate.

Again, we’re aware that the pompous, arty-farty-weegie sort would suggest the now deid Lighthouse and the newborn Trongate 103 (I think that’s what it’s called) are chalk and cheese, poles apart, aimed at different audiences, working to a different remit, headed-up by different people, funded differently, blah blah blah. Well, ‘chalk and cheese’, we’d agree on that, cos one’s dead (some would say it was stillborn) and the other’s newly-created, blinking, shiny and fresh, basking in the first rays of publicity.

But for these two scenarios to be unravelling (and ravelling?) at the same time? They may be very different spaces but the point is, if we’ve made a pig’s ear of one place, simply to replace it with a similar-ish type place, is this not a bit short-sighted and a tad un-joined up? One fabulous Arts space, struggling to justify itself? Who cares? We’ll just build another! Surely Glasgow or even Scotland’s ‘Design’ bodies are better ‘connected’ and strung together than this?

We wish Trongate’s new place all the best, we’ll go there, we’ll support if and we’ll give it credit, where credit’s due. However, the Lighthouse (building) will be sitting there, magnificient but unfulfilled.  ‘Arts’  venues (for want of a better word) can be all-inclusive, fun, non-po-faced and above all, commercially viable. It’s hard work, but feasible, they don’t have to be skint, ulta-exclusive and elitist can-rattlers and funding drains.

The problem with the Lighthouse was it preached to the converted. Nobody who wasn’t a ‘designer’ or an ‘architect’ ever went there. It lacked everyman appeal and it didn’t reach out to families or the person in the street.

Hopefully we can learn from mistakes and this new place in the Trongate will be somewhere you can take kids, families…and grannies…and other punters who know bugger-all about ‘creativity’ or ‘design’ but simply want to have a good time? We don’t like writing design venue obituaries!