Gray’s leads Culture Aberdeen Project to transform empty city centre shops

Wednesday 23 November 2022

Culture Aberdeen Project and opening of EDIT from DAS with (left to right) Peter Baxter from Deemouth Artist Studios (DAS), Sally Reaper Co-Director, Look Again at Gray’s School of Art, Jo Muir (DAS), Claire Bruce from Gray’s Look Again and Craig Stevenson, Centre Manager at Bon Accord
Gray’s School of Art, at Robert Gordon University (RGU), is leading a major project to re-energise Aberdeen city centre by transforming vacant city centre shops into lively and engaging spaces for creatives to flourish.

Gray’s School of Art's creative unit, Look Again, is managing the Culture Aberdeen project and working with creatives and experimental start-up businesses to fill unused city centre units with exhibition spaces, art installations and pop-up shops through short term leases.

The Culture Aberdeen project is a partnership of the city’s cultural organisations and is supported by £150,000 funding from Aberdeen City Council’s Local Authority Covid Economic Recovery Fund.

The project team is working collaboratively with old and new business partners, freelance artists, Culture Aberdeen members and the city centre communities, to transform 2 empty shop units on Schoolhill in Aberdeen.

Look Again has already transformed 32 St.Andrew Street into a city centre project space for artists and designers. Two other units will add to the portfolio and are based at: 1 – 5 George Street (across from the Bank of Scotland) and 34 Upper Kirkgate (next to Dr Noodles). Deemouth Artist Studios (DAS) will create a pop-up shop called EDIT, based at 34 Upper Kirkgate, whilst Aberdeen based start-up, Origin, will create a highly visible, city centre plastic recycling centre called Origin Hub, based at 1-5 George Street.

A fourth shop called ‘DEPARTMNT’ has been opened by the not-for-profit organisation, Second Home, with part funding from Culture Aberdeen, and has transformed an empty unit on Gaelic Lane, into a department-style retail shop.

It's hoped the project may lead to more community led initiatives in the city and could be used as centre hubs to provide skills workshops, training opportunities and new spaces for creative ventures. Longer term lets could also be negotiated in the future to support more permanent spaces.

Sally Reaper, Co-Director from Look Again at Gray’s School of Art said: “As the lead partner for Culture Aberdeen, we’re really excited to be launching a project to re-energise Aberdeen city centre. We plan to bring a mix of pop ups and longer-term tenancies to fill unused spaces. This will not only help improve the vibrancy of Aberdeen city centre but also support emerging creatives across the North East.

“One of the biggest challenges for small businesses starting up are the rates of city centre spaces. 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.

“The project gives small businesses the opportunity to test something out before committing to a longer lease. Through this project, we will help them get a foothold in the city centre and support them to be bold and ambitious.

“The project will not only drive forward cultural innovation and enhance civic pride but will encourage people to re-think how we use city centre spaces.  Culture has a huge part to play in the social and economic recovery of Aberdeen city centre and the wider North East and projects such as this will help raise the profile of the region’s cultural offering.”

Craig Stevenson, Centre Manager at Bon Accord said: “It is fantastic that we can support the Culture Aberdeen project. Giving smaller businesses retail space creates an exciting opportunity while offering something different to the city centre.

“We look forward to seeing the spaces involved be transformed into vibrant pop-ups and exhibitions.”

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Deemouth Artist Studios is one of the companies working with Culture Aberdeen to fill the empty shop unit on 34 Upperkirkgate on Schoolhill. Since opening in November 2019, they’ve run several Christmas markets and Open Studio events from their Torry base but are now looking forward to opening a city centre shop by working in partnership with Culture Aberdeen.

Peter Baxter from Deemouth Artist Studios said: “We’ve always dreamt of having a city centre retail space to showcase what is being produced by our artists to a wider public.

“The unit we have been offered by Look Again on Schoolhill will provide a fantastic venue to present the work of the artists, designers and makers, including, ceramics, jewellery, painting and textiles.

“Our markets and open studio events rely on visitors and customers who have made a conscious decision and effort to visit. The new shop will come with the city centre footfall meaning our tenant’s work will be seen by many more people, some of them as customers. The D.A.S. Shop will add to the shopping experience in Aberdeen, offering ‘something different, something special’ all made locally by people who live and work in the city. 

“Connectivity between organisations is vital for a healthy creative economy. Although not a formal arts organisation, D.A.S. is committed to seeking out and nurturing partnerships that benefit both individual practitioners and the wider cultural environment.”

Gray’s School of Art and the Look Again project team has a strong track record in supporting the North East’s culture sector and has previously worked with creative practitioners to re-energise empty units across the city as demonstrated at the many Look Again Festivals delivered between 2015 and 2019, at the HAAN pop up market at Aberdeen Art Gallery and the Look Again Project Space on St. Andrew Street.

Main image shows (left to right) Peter Baxter from Deemouth Artist Studios (DAS) , Sally Reaper Co-Director, Look Again at Gray’s School of Art, Jo Muir (DAS), Claire Bruce from Gray’s Look Again and Craig Stevenson, Centre Manager at Bon Accord.

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