Whatever you're into, be it clubs, music, theatre, art or food, you're sure to end up at THE ARCHES. Now after a major refit, Glasgow's subterranean hothouse is more essential still.
Words: lack Mottram Pictures: Johathan Littlejohn
EVERY CITY HAS A VENUE THAT INSPIRES loyalty. One that‘s treated more like an old friend than mere bricks and mortar. One that provides the best in live music. Or theatre. Or visual art. Or nightclubbing. But Glasgow can do better than that. It has a place that deals in culture across the board. a venue that can play host to avant garde performance art and commercial superclubbing on the very same night. That venue is the Arches. the series of catacombs nestling beneath the tracks out of Central Station that has become the
cornerstone of Glasgow‘s cultural life.
But when the Arches began its transformation from disused railway storage depot to arts centre in 1991. there was no grand plan for a free-ﬂowing multidisciplinary showcase. Artistic director Andy Arnold simply wanted to keep going with the theatre company he'd run as part of the building‘s transformation into Glasgow‘s Glasgow, the major 1990 exhibition that was a ﬂagship for the city‘s Year of Culture programme. ‘Then the clubs came along. more by accident than design. because it's the perfect building for that.‘ says Arnold. And instantly he‘d found a means of paying the rent. ‘All the other things
16 THE “81' 5—19 Jan 2001
have evolved naturally. because certain people working here have had a particular vision of what they want to do.‘
From Thursday 1] January. the Arches is set to build on its unique history of blending cross-cultural events thanks to a £3.5m cash injection from the Scottish Arts Council. buoyed up by contributions from landlords Railtrack and Glasgow City Council. The extensive expansion and facelift by Murray Design Group will spin the venue on its axis with the creation of an Argyle Street entranceway. This will allow natural light to shine for the first time in the dim recesses of the cavemous building. as well as rejuvenating the previously uninhabitable acres of basement space.
Most importantly. though, thanks to a cafe- bar courtesy of design teams du jour Timorous Beasties and One Foot Taller. the refurbishment will switch the emphasis of the Arches from a night-time playground to a city- centre hub for daytime art consumption and evening socialising, opening up the programme to a wider audience. ‘On a basic level. the facelift is going to bring more people into the Arches.’ says Arnold. ‘The average
clubber might not be put off by the Midland Street entrance. but for an older theatregoer. or people with young children it’s pretty off- putting. You have to be quite a dedicated Arches fan to brave that route.’
The word ‘refurbishment' is liable to strike fear into the heart of the dedicated Arches punter. As the name of the venue suggests. the building is much more than a shell for housing events. Instead, the history in the walls. the vast space and even the slight air of seediness combine to create a distinct atmosphere that inﬂuences the art produced under the vaulted ceilings. Surely tarting it up would kill the very thing that makes it special?
Executive director Sarah Wells agrees. She recognises that people are not intimidated by it precisely because it’s rough and ready. not shiny and clean. And that‘s not going to change. ‘Even though we’re going to have a nice entrance. with a nice box office rather than a crappy door that doesn’t open properly. a lot of the inherent features are going to remain just as they are.’ she says. ‘There will be water seeping into the building. because you just can‘t stop it. That means that people aren’t as intimidated as they might be going