Edinburgh's Stills gallery at risk over council's rent increases

The future of Edinburgh gallery Stills – one of the UK's most vital photographic galleries – is in doubt after an exorbitant rent rise

Article by Jamie Dunn | 15 Apr 2019
  • Stills Edinburgh

Edinburgh Council's attack on the arts continues apace. Its latest target is Stills, the city's much-loved photographic gallery, which is facing a huge rent hike that could force the gallery from its city centre location on Cockburn Street.

Currently, the rent for the gallery, which opened in 1977, sits at £16,000 a year. The city council plans to increase the rent to £47,000 – almost three times the current rate – over the next five years.

This rent hike comes on the heels of a rejection of a £50,000 funding bid from an Edinburgh city grant, with a 1% reduction of the gallery's current grant handed to the gallery instead, reports The Herald. The combination of the city's rent increase and grant rejection puts the gallery in a tough position.

“The increase in rent and decrease in grant funding undermines the value of Stills and presents a major risk to the delivery of our work, something that will have a negative impact on the visual arts ecosystem in Scotland and on the ever-increasing audiences for photography," Ben Harman, Stills' director, told The Herald.

The result of this financial predicament is that Stills may no longer be able to operate from its Cockburn Street venue, which would be disastrous for the gallery and a real loss to Edinburgh's city centre. “This location is crucial to the programme of work that we deliver today and is key to making our work as accessible as possible," said Harman. “We benefit from having a large proportion of drop-in visitors... our proximity to Waverley station and other transport links make it easier for creative learning and course participants to travel to and from our premises.”

Edinburgh City Council's justification for the rent increase is that they now want 'market value' for the location. “When the original lease was drawn up for Stills Limited they were offered a substantial reduction in rent in recognition of the considerable capital they planned to spend on the property," the council said in a statement. "Stills are now being asked to pay their rent at market value and the increase is being phased over five years."

Stills having to move location would be a real detriment to the city, and would likely result in another tacky tartan or whisky shop taking its place. If you agree, then you can show your support by signing this petition, which currently has 2187 signatures so far – the target is 3000. Click here.