CULTURAL CAPITAL OF EUROPE
The year turned out to be unprecedented in the eight centuries of the city's history. There were 3,439 public events, performers and artists from 23 countries, 40 major works commissioned in the performing and visual arts, 60 world premieres in theatre, dance and music, 3,979 performances of 656 theatrical productions and 3,122 musical performances, 2,200 of them free, 1091 exhibitions, and 157 sporting events.
Events involved schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, hospitals, prisons, homes for the elderly and training centres, theatres, galleries, universities, community centres, warehouses, parks and streets.
My own view of the year is conditioned by the fact that I am an unashamed propagandist, if you accept the dictionary definition of propaganda as the organised dissemination of information. I believe our year of culture was a success because when it ended there were few places of importance in the world that do not know Glasgow was a city of major importance.
The European City of Culture concept was introduced in 1985 by Melina Mercouri, Greece's Minister of Culture at the time and one-time actress and singer (Never on a Sunday). Athens was the first city to hold the title, followed by Florence, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris and Glasgow.
If ever a word has been misused and misinterpreted it is the word culture. Hanns Johst wrote at the beginning of this century, "Wenn ich Kulture hore..entsichere ich meinen Browning!" Whenever I hear the word culture I release the safety catch on my pistol. Culture doesn't mean a ballet performance or an opera or a classical concert. It means all of these things and a lot more. It means the total range of the inherited ideas, beliefs, attitudes, values, and activities of a group of people. This is what Glasgow's culture year set out to project.
Work started on publicising the year four years before the event. By the time 1990 dawned my work was virtually finished and a specially-established press office dealt with the world's news media who flocked to Glasgow to find out what all the fuss was about.
My office put out a press release in April 1986 that the city was making a bid for the title of European City of Culture, or Cultural Capital of Europe as we quickly renamed it. Glasgow was competing with Edinburgh, Liverpool, Leeds, Bristol, Cardiff, Bath, Swansea and Cambridge. In October a phone call from the Cabinet Office in London told me that Richard Luce, Britain's Minister for the Arts, would nominate Glasgow for the culture title at a meeting in Brussels on November 13 along with the 11 other Ministers of Culture of the European Economic Community. The award to Glasgow would be automatic as it was Britain's turn and Glasgow would receive unanimous approval.
The Cabinet Office also asked me to organise a press conference for October 20 at which Mr Luce would announce the nomination. The excitement was tense as a large number of journalists, some of whom sent their stories world wide, gathered in the City Chambers to hear the announcement.
Mr Luce said it was an important day in Glasgow's history. All the other cities had put forward interesting nominations but Glasgow had put together the best case. That didn't prevent the Government from declining to give the city much help with its plans for 1990. The Office of Arts and Libraries gave the city only £500,000 which amounted to less than one per cent of the total cost.
The world's biggest advertising agency, Saatchi and Saatchi, was later commissioned to help publicise 'culture year.' Not everyone in the Labour group of the city council was thrilled about employing the agency which had done so much for Labour's arch-enemy Margaret Thatcher but Pat Lally, the council leader, was determined that only the 'biggest and best' was good enough to work for Glasgow.
Some of their brightest public relations stars were assigned the task of devising a slogan for the year. The lights burned late night after night in their London office until inspiration settled on the furrowed brows. There's a lot Glasgowing on in 1990 was born. My first inclination was to burst into hysterical laughter. Glaswegians had the greatest difficulty in saying it and it was utterly impossible to translate for the benefit of the rest of the world.
The politicians approved the slogan anyway but we also used one we bought for £20,000 from John Struthers, the man who devised the Glasgow's Miles Better slogan. "The Flying G" as we nicknamed it, didn't mean much either but it was useful enough as slogans go because the success of a slogan depends largely on how well and how often it is publicised. People will get used to anything in time. Saatchi's efforts for 'culture year' cost £2.5 million, most of which was spent on newspaper advertising. The year, for which the city council had created a budget of £15 million to subsidise events, provide guarantees against losses by performing groups, and to provide seed money to get projects started, had already been running three months when M. Jacques Chirac, mayor of Paris, formally handed the culture crown, metaphorically speaking, to Glasgow's Lord Provost Susan Baird in the King's Theatre on March 2, 1990, watched by the Queen and diplomats and politicians from all the European community countries and a galaxy of stars from a variety of other firmaments, industry and commerce, the church, the visual and performing arts, law, medicine, and the halls of academe.
Because of the number of French speakers in the audience the theatre manager, Billy Differ, anxious to display his linquistic skills, introduced the Queen as La Reine d'Angleterre, the Queen of England. Even the lady herself joined in the laughter.
After the ceremony in the Kings's Theatre the Queen went to McLellan Galleries which had been refurbished at a cost of £3.5 million, to see The British Art Show, the work of 42 artists in their 20s and 30s. The exhibition included dustbin lids, metal filing cabinets, giant fur-covered spoons, and what looked like roof guttering, in addition to more conventional manifestations of man's creative genius. There is no record of what the Queen thought of the exhibition, which was described in its advertising as daring, innovative, and significant.
Highlights of 1990 year included shows by the world's great artists, Peter Brook, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Dramaten Theatre directed by Ingmar Bergman, Frank Sinatra, Luciano Pavarotti, and the Bolshoi Opera Company. Their success depends very much on whether one looks at them from the perspective of an aesthete, an accountant, or a member of the public who has to find the money for tickets. The Sinatra concert, for instance, cost the city £665,000, of which £575,000 was Ol' Blue Eyes' fee. The Bolshoi Opera cost more than £1,000,000 and Luciano's concert cost £800,000 to mount, but were covered by ticket sales.
Robert Palmer, our Director of Performing Arts, later wrote an account of what was involved in getting the Bolshoi Opera company to Glasgow: "Communication with the Soviet Union was not easy. Twentythree telexes were sent to The Bolshoi Opera in the two-month period following a visit to Glasgow in November 1989 by Aleksander Lazarev, the company's musical director.
In January 1990 Valery Levental, chief designer of the Bolshoi, Vladimir Taran, technical director, and Sergey Selivanov, came to Glasgow, engulfed themselves in technical drawings of the SECC and talked for hours, counting and discounting possibilities.
One evening the Russians came to my office and told me, 'We want to perform in Glasgow. It will be difficult but we think it can be done.' That was the start of many detailed negotiations. Consultants poured over inventive conversion proposals, seating plans and acoustics and the SECC talked about hires and services. Eventually more than 900 people were involved in helping to make possible the Bolshoi's visit to Glasgow. But it was worth it."
A number of events featuring Soviet performing and visual arts were held in Glasgow during 1989 and 1990, including New Beginnings, described by Chris Carrell, director of the Third Eye Centre, as "the largest season of contemporary Soviet arts ever staged in Britain." Journalistic hyperbole was a valuable and much-used tool in those days. The Third Eye centre was reborn later as the Centre for Contemporary Arts and is now directed by the talented Penny Rae.
Neil Wallace, depute director of festivals, and I had a monumental row in my office one day when I was writing a press release to announce that Pavarotti would be among the stars of culture year. Neil said I shouldn't emphasise the Pavarotti involvement as the year was not about him but about hundreds of things that were happening.
I tried to tell him I had to start the story somewhere and the fact that Pavarotti was coming was news. Not being a journalist Neil had difficulty in understanding what I was talking about and we had a real slanging match. Eventually for the sake of peace I didn't start off my story with Pavarotti but when the story appeared in all the newspapers it started off with the Italian singer. That was the last time I let anyone interfere with what I was writing. Needless to say Neil and I have been friends ever since.
Among the benefits of garden festival year and 1990 is that never again will Glaswegians be reluctant to say where they come from, as was the case in the 1970s. Never again will a writer in one of America's most influential business magazines, Forbes, be able to refer to Glasgow as "Siberia in a kilt."
Directly because of culture year Glasgow now has the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, the refurbished McLellan Galleries, making it the finest and largest fully air-conditioned exhibition space outside London, the Tramway, a former tramcar depot, which has won many awards for its high quality innovative theatre and visual arts programmes, a second studio within the Centre for Contemporary Arts, a second cinema for the Glasgow Film Theatre, and the Arches exhibition and theatre area under the Central railway station.
New festivals were also initiated, The Glasgow International Early Music Festival, Chorus International, the Tryst Festival and a festival of children's theatre to add to Mayfest and Glasgow International Jazz Festival which had been established earlier.
A variety of other theatre, music and arts groups were spawned by culture year and are still going strong. They include Call That Singing (a choir of 500 voices) and Jewish Arts, the brain-child of Louise Naftalin, wife of a Glasgow lawyer, which organises concerts, recitals, talks by well-known writers, art exhibitions, and children's events.
Successful exhibitions during the year included The Age of Van Gogh, Treasures of the Holy Land, The British Art Show (despite the dustbin lids) Degas' Images of Women, 2000 Years of Art & Design, Henry Moore Sculptures, Camille Pissarro, and many more.
One exhibition attracted about 500,000 visitors, more than all the others combined, and was still considered a disaster. Glasgow's Glasgow in the Arches was described as an exposition based on the theme of Glasgow's history...demonstrating in a dynamic manner the uniqueness and variety of the city.
Unfortunately it didn't live up to its lofty aspirations, entry was too highly priced, it was too poorly marketed, and too few people could get in at one time even if they did turn up. Instead of being self-financing as was intended it cost the city £4.5 million, the most expensive single event of the year.
Doug Clelland, the originator of the exhibition, made a spirited defence of the event and understandably laid the blame for its loss at a variety of doors. He also claimed it contained within it 16 mini-exhibitions, that a lot of people liked it, that it demonstrated the vitality and versatility of the city, brought tourists, provided a platform for diverse theatrical performances, gave birth to The Words and the Stones, one of the most comprehensive books on the city, transported, exhibited and safely returned to diverse owners 3,923 artifacts, and much else.
All of which came of something as a relief to me as Doug Clelland came to me in 1987 with the idea for the exhibition and later wrote asking me to discuss it with Robert Palmer, then festivals director, which I did, giving it my enthusiastic support.
Investment in the arts has benefited the economy of the city by increasing tourism, business, and creating jobs. More than 6,500 people, 2.8% of the economically active population, are involved in the cultural scene, more than in banking sector.
Attendance figures for performances, the growth of cultural industries such as film production, book publishing and design were all given a considerable boost by the 1990 City of Culture initiative.
Robert Palmer is invited 70 to 80 times a year to speak at and chair international conferences in places like Paris, Helsinki, Stockholm, Toronto, Athens, Luxemburg, Zimbabwe, Berlin, Moscow, and St Petersburg. All of these cities want to know about the management of festivals, how a city like Glasgow devises urban cultural policy, how the arts relate to urban regeneration, how to manage the arts, and Glasgow's long-term cultural transformation. Foreign journalists constantly ask him about the city's cultural policy.
Compared with 1989 there is a 14 per cent increase in attendances at theatre events, concerts, exhibitions, and events; 4.5 million arts attendances a year. More people attend arts events in Glasgow than any other city in Britain except London. Glasgow is featured prominently in publications throughout the world in articles about cultural capitals.
Glaswegians have had to be very adaptable. Their city has changed many times in the eight centuries of its existence, from a little town with only ecclesiastical significance in the Middle Ages to a prosperous and beautiful city in the 17th and 18th centuries, to a rich but overcrowded industrial sprawl in the 19th century, to a modern business and cultural centre today.
For a time it was the second city of the British empire, an empire greater than the Romans ever dreamed of. There is no continent which has not benefited from the ingenuity, imagination, enterprise, skill, inventiveness, clarity of thought, and even genius of people born or trained in Glasgow. Its ships sailed every sea, its locomotives pulled the trains on every continent, its fabrics adorned the world's beautiful women, its engines powered the world's industry, and its carpets rolled across the floors of the world's exotic palaces, and a few desert tents.
For more than five centuries Glasgow University has turned out graduates who have gone all over the world to distinguish themselves in every field of human endeavour. The university has the oldest engineering school in the world and the largest medical school in Britain and one of the largest in Europe.
People sometimes talk about Glasgow's culture year as if the city had a brief flirtation with culture in 1990 for the first time in its life. Whatever one might think of Glasgow's civic leaders it doesn't alter the fact that generation after generation of them have done what they could to enrich the cultural life of the citizens, even if they haven't always been conscious of it.
To ensure their continued existence the Corporation of Glasgow bought the Citizens Theatre in 1955 and the King's Theatre from the London-based Howard and Wyndham Limited in 1967. The Citizens is known throughout Europe for the quality of its productions.
The City Halls in Candleriggs were opened in October 1841 as the first concert hall in Glasgow. It was also the venue for important speakers, who have included Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone.
When St Andrew's Hall was burned down in 1962 the City Hall came into its own as the venue for Scottish National Orchestra concerts. These have now gone to the new concert hall but the City Hall is still used for other concerts and meetings.
Glasgow now has the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Glasgow Philharmonic Orchestra, Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet, 14 theatres, 28 theatre companies, 150 professional performing arts organisations, almost all of which are heavily subsidised by the council. In 1988 the Queen Mother opened the new £12 million Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
In 1990 Glasgow City Council established a £3 million investment fund to acquire works by Scottish and international artists. And there are also a large number of privately-owned studios and exhibition places in addition to the council's own galleries.
In 1983 the marketing world-wide of the opening of The Burrell Collection was the biggest and most successful operation ever carried out in Scotland on behalf of an exhibition or museum. In 1981 The Realist Tradition exhibition at the Museum & Art Gallery at Kelvingrove achieved the second highest attendance, 118,900, since the museum was opened 81 years earlier.
In 1979 the Exhibition of Jewish Art at Kelvingrove and the Jewish Way of Life exhibition in Hillhead Library achieved record attendances despite what might have been considered a limited, sectarian appeal.
Glasgow School of Art, Scotland's premier art school, has an international academic and artistic reputation in architecture, design and fine art and in its 150 years has influenced major movements in European art, has produced a high number of Scotland's great painters and has had a major influence in Scottish design.
A considerable number of professional artists live, work and exhibit regularly in the city, including many who have achieved international reputations; Campbell, Conroy, Currie, Howson, Watt and Wiszniewski.
The last decade has seen the development of considerable artistic activity within the minority ethnic communities in Glasgow who have produced exhibitions and specific projects in collaboration with most of the leading arts organisations.
Glasgow's interest in the visual arts go back to 1670 when the town council bought from London portraits of Charles 1 and Charles 11 for the townes use. At the council house they joined portraits of James and James V1, laying the foundation for city's art galleries.
Many of the men who amassed considerable fortunes when the city was a great industrial and maritime metropolis collected paintings as a hobby and later they or their families gave the collections to the city.
The Hunterian collection left to the University of Glasgow by William Hunter in 1783 has the distinction of sharing with the Freer Gallery in Washington the world's finest collection of paintings by James McNeil Whistler.
In 1865 the town council acquired from the estate of Archibald McLellan, a coach builder, a magnificent collection of paintings and a building which is still known as McLellan Galleries.
In 1874 the city was given the Dutch and British art collections of William Euing, an insurance broker. Three years later John Graham-Gilbert's collection came from his wife. This collection included many paintings by Graham-Gilbert himself, a member of the Royal Scottish Academy. The collection included two of Glasgow's prized possessions, Rembrandt's Man in Armour and Ruben's Nature Adorned by the Graces.
All of which means it shouldn't really have surprised anyone that Glasgow became Cultural Capital of Europe in 1990. Most Glaswegians benefited from the city's year of culture even if they don't know it; and as I have said, it certainly did a lot for the city's image, which was my major concern.