Scotland’s arts and culture sector has been somewhat forgotten during the pandemic, as hospitality and retail increasingly struggle against ever-changing restrictions on business.
However, as a study conducted in October by the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions and the Moffat Center for Travel and Tourism Development at the University of Caledonian Glasgow found, survival, rather than recovery, is the current priority for many.
Less than half of the area (48.1%) is currently fully open and more than one in 10 attractions remain closed. An additional 40.9% are operating with reduced hours or limited facilities due to the impacts of the coronavirus crisis and Brexit.
Insider spoke to Christina Jansen, Managing Director of The Scottish Gallery – the UK’s oldest private gallery – about her survival strategies over the past two years and her plans for a hopefully better future; affirming the importance of art in keeping people’s morale up during difficult times.
After working for the Crafts Council, V&A, Tate and Christie’s in London, as well as a postgraduate degree in Decorative Arts at the University of Glasgow, she joined the gallery in 1997.
This interview was conducted a week before the latest round of restrictions to go into effect on Boxing Day.
So the first obvious question seems to be how are you and the gallery doing right now?
Omicron has slammed everyone’s psychology as we move into another seemingly joyless Christmas – during the pandemic people have come here to escape.
We had to get all the staff out to be reinforced, taking into account those who might have the wrong answer, so we face the same issues as all other companies in terms of staff.
When the pandemic first hit, we had to close our doors for the first time in all of these years, so we looked back and wondered what had been done before in times of crisis.
Our goal was not to turn our backs on artists, so we tried to use technology to our advantage, we got creative and found that we were very heartwarming to many.
The gallery has yet to offer this escape, because art is a fantastic human endeavor. Moving forward is not going to be easy, we are in an emerging situation, so it is a question of balancing everything.
Of course, technology does not replace reality, it is often very cold, so it was about creating a channel between the real gallery and people far away.
We have met the artists at events, virtual tours with them, and we continue to create great publications. Beyond that, we have social media – Instagram is like the Wild West, but is great for engagement.
What government support did the gallery have access to to survive?
In fact, there was very little support, we got a small grant to start with, but it would have lasted about two weeks if there was nothing in the bank – you don’t want to spend capital unnecessarily.
We are able to generate income online so we are not receiving any help at this time but I feel more for the hospitality right now – it must be horrible.
We are a truly independent company, we do not receive donations.
The leave was unnecessary for us, because it prevented us from carrying out projects – you have to be here to receive the work of the artists, so we were here one at a time.
It has been an extreme form of team building, developing a core of people to work with. But we got everyone back from leave pretty quickly.
What adaptation mechanisms were then put in place?
We’ve been incredibly strict with the rules – the place is very clean, we wear N95 masks and so on.
The artists wanted to help and get involved, and in the end we were more afraid of doing nothing than doing things and making mistakes – I mean some of our artists haven’t even owned a smartphone before. , so it’s been a learning curve.
When we reopened, we were one of the first destinations a lot of people came to. The formula keeps changing.
We are aware that if Omicron is as highly infectious as it sounds, then we will inevitably be shut down. We pray that we are all well enough to be here.
We have had private timed and paid views for the past two weeks. They are quite short and safe, but also very social and well received.
The blocks have been very disheartening, but as a business you need to put your feelings aside and focus on what can be done. We have a good toolkit, but that doesn’t guarantee you success.
We couldn’t wait to reopen in May, but that’s a shame, you have to park the anxieties and get on with it – basically it’s important to interact with people.
You’ve stood up for female artists, with an emphasis on Scottish talent – the upcoming exhibition calendar features a 50:50 split of women versus men, which remains an unusual ratio in the world of visual arts dominated by men. Is it a conscious decision or just a reflection of the diversity of talents?
The National Galleries informed us about this because we didn’t know our company was special in terms of gender – accidentally it seems we’re pretty progressive.
It’s about talent, we’re a commercial enterprise, women don’t want to be in ladies-only shows, they want to be among their peers, so it’s just a matter of catching up with the market.
We are not aware of this, the Scottish art world is quite small and we are fortunate to have a fantastic art school system.
We’re basically just another small business, but we’ve done some pretty amazing things.
Don’t miss the latest headlines with our twice daily newsletter – subscribe here for free.