Edifice Complex continued

Music school students in Edinburgh

The Edifice Complex continues to rear its head — yet another new performing arts building is conceived with little thought to the art that will reside inside and outside. Juxtaposed articles in The Scotsman demonstrate clearly how a new building can exacerbate local problems with little interaction with local artists and the community’s music education institutions.

The Edifice Complex demonstrates the income inequality problems of the developed world that have evolved over the past few decades. Wealthy patrons in many cities want to justifiably indicate the maturity of their cultural scene through the construction of a world class facility for the performing arts or a museum to show their collection of priceless treasures. The new structure is usually designed by a prominent architect and every community leader jumps on to lend their name and donations to this important venture.

I am certainly not against building venues for the arts as artists must perform or show their art in suitable locations. However, the problem I see over and over again is that the new building receives all of the attention and the art that will reside inside becomes an afterthought. The question rarely is asked: why are we building this new structure? What art do we want to present inside? The community will be proud of supporting a contemporary and striking building, but will the building interact with modern art or cutting edge performances, and support work done by local artists? Do we build the new venue for art of the past or art of the future?

Even more important, how will the new structure interact with the community? Are we doing enough to develop audiences for the future? In a city like Edinburgh with a long artistic history and a renowned international Festival, the venue will receive enough funding but a prominent Edinburgh arts education school is on the verge of closing. The school needs so little money to continue its service to young artists compared to what the new hall will receive! Wouldn’t it be a shame that the new venue is built at the same time a famous Edinburgh arts education school closes?

It has been proven many times that early arts education leads to patrons of the future. Without an investment in arts education, every community struggles over time to develop new audiences and donors to sustain their trophy building. The focus on building a building rather than building a culture is leading us down a very dangerous path.

As noted in The Scotsman: Closing a world-renowned music school in the centre of Edinburgh to redistribute musical education elsewhere in the city will prevent children from accessing tuition across the country, according to a group leading the charge to save the institution. Campaigners say Edinburgh’s cash-strapped council has been “deceptive” in its claim that shutting the esteemed City of Edinburgh Music School and re-homing it in four schools across the capital will allow greater access to musical education. They also said the council had overlooked the fact the school provides a “national centre of excellence” for musically gifted children from all over Scotland. The local authority hopes to save as much as £383,000 through the closure of the school, which helped launch the early musical careers of Garbage lead singer Shirley Manson and Celtic fusion star Martyn Bennett. . . . The campaign to save the school has already received backing from alumni including jazz legend Tommy Smith and cellist Julian Lloyd-­Webber. Pupils protested outside the city chambers over the weekend, holding an impromptu performance at the entrance to the building. Tony Gutierrez, who has two children at the school, added: “I don’t know if the council realise how big a part this school plays in the lives of the children and parents around it. We relocated from Balerno so our children could attend, but some have come from ­further – England, across Europe. This is a huge part of their lives.”

In contrast, The Scotsman covered the design of the new hall prior to its public unveiling:  The advisory board behind Edinburgh’s much-needed 1,000-seater auditorium really wants to get it right. Among them is Sir Jonathan Mills, former director of the Edinburgh International Festival, and now with a lot more time on his hands to help drive things in the right direction. Interestingly, he reminds me, he also has a degree in architecture. “I was very interested in the idea of environmental acoustics; the idea that we use sound as a primary generator of how we design,” he says. “At the moment buildings are too often designed for their visual impact and then redesigned for their acoustic profiles. My field isn’t specialised in this, and I would never put myself forward as an acoustician.” 

. . .  The challenge, of course, is to achieve an acoustical solution that will suit the multi-purpose usage of the new hall, from the resident SCO to solo and chamber recitals, intimate early music to amplified contemporary. Can that be done without resorting to compromise or gimmicks? . . . Many are asking if the new hall sounds the death knell of the Queen’s Hall. Mills says he doesn’t know. “What I do know is that it absolutely needs to reconcile its future. But that can be a positive thing. During the festival period the Queen’s Hall has a very wide range of music, particularly from the Fringe; maybe it’s in scoring some of those projects that it will identify its future.”

Sir Mills acknowledges the art inside, but I would be surprised if the artists he expects to present have truly had input into the design to fit their needs. I also wonder if the leaders of the City of Edinburgh Music School have interacted with the building’s donors to discuss ways to maintain the school and have their students be part of the plans for the new venue. I feel strongly that any new venture needs to consider how they will find support for the future — supporting arts education is the most proven and positive way. I would like to encourage the Edinburgh parents of the music students, and those supporting the school’s continuance, to encourage those supporting the new venue to take a very small percentage of the building’s support to keep the school thriving and ensure a healthy arts environment for the future.

The cultural environment of any city is about all of its citizens.Without considering all of the pieces of the puzzle, the arts remain locked in the past. Spending money on buildings to the detriment of local artists and arts education is shortsighted and harms our culture over time. I hope to encourage those supporting the new venue to view a larger picture of the new building as a way to inspire new artistic work and develop new patrons through local arts education.

The Scotsman: “‘No saving’ in closing famous Edinburgh music school”

The Scotsman: “”Music interview: Jonathan Mills on how brilliant acoustics are the starting point for Edinburgh’s new concert space”


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