In September 2009, Glasgow opened a new arts centre, called Trongate 103. For this city, which has around 600,000 inhabitants, this is the fourth of such spaces (not counting the many museums and galleries). This means that Trongate 103 is either an outrage and an economic suicide, or that the locals and visitors like this model of ‘all culture under one roof ‘. So, Trongate 103 joins the CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts), The Lighthouse –which specializes in architecture and design– and Tramway, focusing on cutting-edge contemporary art, performance and dance (it is also the home of the Scottish Ballet).
But the proposal brought to the city by Trongate 103 is somewhat different. It is a kind of co-op, with commercial galleries and restaurants that already existed, with their name and reputation. They have just come together to renovate a building between Trongate and King Street, where most of Glasgow’s galleries are located. Imagine an art’s shopping centre and you will not go astray.
Here we find, amongst others, Glasgow Print Studios, an exhibition and artists’ work space, Glasgow’s Russian cultural centre with its renowned Café Cossachok –which, incidentally, is gorgeous, has an excellent menu at a good price and live music– and Transmission, the gallery immortalized by Franz Ferdinand in their song ‘Do you want to’ (…Here we are at the Transmission party, I love your friends, they’re all so arty, oh yeah…). The GMAC (Glasgow Media Access Center), a resource for filmmakers where they can, for example, network, discuss ideas, train or look for start-up capital and equipment for films is also located at Trongate 103.
Trongate 103’s rivals
Like its rivals (or perhaps peers, or siblings, I see no clear relationship yet) Trongate 103 organises events, soirées and evening lectures, open days and talks, although it has good competition, especially with the CCA. Of the four, the CCA is the arts centre with the best evening events, of which I would particularly highlight Cryptic Nights, which consists of a screening (movie, short film, animation, video work…), some music, and access to a menu of two dishes and a glass of wine for £10. Today, nobody gives anything for under £10, so this offer is a bargain. Trongate 103 can find, in The Lighthouse, one of the biggest rivals in relation to coherent exhibitions. It is a luxury to see architectural models and design pieces so well presented, so well lit. And The Lighthouse’s shop is also worth a visit in itself: although not cheap, is very interesting, specialized and extravagant. By the way, The Lighthouse also contains the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Interpretation Center. Mackintosh is Glasgow’s star architect, the greatest example of Art Nouveau, and the designer of the tower integrated within The Lighthouse’s newer building. The Lighthouse, though, is not free (excluding Saturdays) and Trongate 103, is. Tramway has, without a doubt, the best private view openings, the more varied and diverse audience, shows the most renowned artists (Phil Collins, Bruce Nauman, and Spanish performance artist La Ribot, amongst others) and participates in New Territories, one of the most important performance art festivals in the country.
As for the building renovation, Trongate 103 has followed the pattern set by its predecessors: a contemporary interior in an old building. The Lighthouse is located in the former Glasgow Herald newspaper office (from 1895!). Tramway is a spectacular tram depot (from 1893!), and the CCA is in the old Greek chambers (from 1865 !!!) designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thompson, Mackintosh’s greatest rival.
In comparison, Trongate 103’s building does not have as much history or the look of the others, but maybe this is a positive thing. Before the renovation, it housed Street Level Photoworks and some other galleries that have become part of the co-op, so this new centre has an air of rationalising resources, rather than starting from scratch. Those of us who are used to seeing shows in that space know the way, and are very grateful that the new building has no leaks.
The question is what will the future hold for this new centre. The CCA’s financial problems are well knows to the public, as are The Lighthouse’s constant threats of closure –and which have become a reality for similar venues around the country. But no, Glasgow is very proud of its arts centres and, in the end, someone or other always puts forward a rescue plan or a new initiative. Not far from Trongate 103, the Briggait, a former merchant’s house and then a fish market, is undergoing a renovation which will see it converted into artists’ studios. This surely shows a solid support for the visual arts in Glasgow. The road is still bumpy, though. Yet, Trongate 103 opened its doors with a bang, in a big way, with exhibitions and events supporting local artists or showcasing important ones. It is a modern centre, cutting-edge, with its feet firmly planted on the ground and open to new technologies. They have someone tweeting!