Investing in creative businesses can bring the soul back to our city centre

Thursday 24 November 2022

Image shows Sally Reaper in front of the Love at First Sight exhibition by Morag Myerscough, with text from Jo Gilbert’s poem, from Look Again Festival 2019 - Photo by Grant Anderson
Opinion: Writing in the Press and Journal, Sally Reaper, Co-Director for Gray's creative unit, Look Again, explains how we can bring the soul back to city centres by re-imagining urban spaces and investing in creative communities.

In the aftermath of Covid and with the economic challenges affecting us all, many of our city centre space lies vacant but it needn’t be that way.

We can re-imagine our urban spaces and find ways to revitalise Aberdeen centre. We need to re-code the city centre so that community groups have a bigger role and so that we can bring the soul back to our city centre.

One of the biggest challenges small businesses face, are the start-up rates in the city centre. Rents are often too great and the legalities too cumbersome, for creative practitioners to have the confidence to commit to a city centre space.

If we are to move forward as a city locally or nationally, there has to be a change to the rateable value to re-energise our city centre spaces. We need peppercorn rates and regulations revised, with incentives to encourage creative practitioners back to the city centre.

Only by investing in our creative communities and by developing sustainable, affordable city centre living and workspaces can we provide small businesses and creatives with the opportunity to be present in our city centres. Having this community alive and active can help lead the way to develop a new narrative, creating new behaviours and ultimately impacting on the economic drive of a new type of high street experience.

Gray’s School of Art’s creative unit, Look Again, at Robert Gordon University, is leading a Culture Aberdeen project to do just that. The project brings together the city’s cultural organisations, who’re working with creatives and experimental start-up businesses to fill unused city centre units with exhibition spaces, art installations and pop-up shops supported by short term leases.

The project is supported by £150,000 funding from Aberdeen City Council’s Local Authority Covid Economic Recovery Fund and offers fresh hope and new opportunities for creatives to get a foothold in the city centre.

The project team is working collaboratively with old and new business partners, freelance artists, Culture Aberdeen members and city centre communities, to transform empty shop units on Schoolhill in Aberdeen.  Deemouth Artist Studios (DAS) will take over an empty space on Upperkirkgate launching EDIT a new retail pop-up. DAS, which is currently located in Torry, will bring their studio tenants into the heart of the city.  

A second shop, set up by Aberdeen based start-up Origin, will create a highly visible, city centre plastic recycling centre called Origin Hub, where local plastic waste can be collected, recycled and transformed into something useful, right in front of the public eye. A third shop called ‘DEPARTMNT’, that’s being part funded by Culture Aberdeen, and led by the not-for-profit organisation, Second Home, has already opened and has brought a department-style shop to Gaelic Lane.


The Culture Aberdeen project builds on Gray’s School of Art and Look Again’s track record in supporting the North East’s culture sector as demonstrated through the many Look Again Festivals delivered between 2015 and 2019, the HAAN pop up market at Aberdeen Art Gallery and the Look Again Project Space on St. Andrew Street, which has transformed a once empty city centre space into a vibrant exhibition venue for artists and designers.

By investing in creative businesses, we can empower communities to play a leading role in Aberdeen. This will not only benefit creative communities, but will have a lasting impact on the fabric of Aberdeen. It will contribute to the overall prosperity and economic vitality of the region and, raise the profile of the region’s cultural offering.

Main image shows Co-Director, Look Again at Gray’s School of Art, Sally Reaper, in front of the Love at First Sight exhibition by Morag Myerscough, with text from Jo Gilbert’s poem, from Look Again Festival 2019 - Photo by Grant Anderson

Second image shows (left to right) Peter Baxter from Deemouth Artist Studios (DAS), Sally Reaper from Look Again, Jo Muir (DAS), Claire Bruce from Gray’s Look Again and Craig Stevenson, Centre Manager at Bon Accord - Photo by Bart Grabski from Look Again


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