Questions about whether the Glasgow School of Art should maintain control of the Mac will be raised at a Scottish parliamentary committee, as criticism mounts over the college’s stewardship of the building
Four experts have been invited to Holyrood to give evidence next week (20 September) on the fire that almost completely destroyed Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s landmark building in June.
MSP Joan McAlpine, convenor of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, said the session would explore ‘how we got to this point, whether lessons were learned from the past’ and how to move forward.
One of the witnesses, Mackintosh expert Roger Billcliffe, told Glasgow’s Evening Times that while he is still considering what he will recommend to MSPs, he believes that using the Mackintosh building as a teaching facility is ‘not reconcilable’.
‘The building is a work of art and a museum; it should be treated like one,’ he said. ‘The future of the building should be under consideration and questions over whether it should remain as a school should be asked.’
Another witness, director of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society Stuart Robertson, told The Times that the Glasgow School of Art should not direct the rebuilding alone.
’The art school is primarily about teaching of the arts,’ said Robertson. ‘They are not really a conservation body, and it’s a big, big project to take it on.’
But Scottish architect Malcolm Fraser, who will also give evidence, described the idea of taking the building away from the school and turning it into a Mackintosh museum as a ‘disaster’.
He said: ‘I will be reminding the committee that the building was far more important and creative than a mere reliquary, but was – and must be again – a living, working, inspiring and creative place; and that to deny the artists of a future Scotland this would be extraordinary self-harm.’
Fraser argued that ‘museums burn down too’, pointing to the devastating fire at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, and said he would be arguing for better statutory oversight of important historic buildings and fire safety.
He also said he would be ‘decrying the school’s dash for cash, and some bad building material choices’.
The other witness appearing before the committee is Eileen Reid, a former Glasgow School of Art employee.
Speaking in advance of the evidence session, McAlpine described the Mac as ‘one of the greatest pieces of art ever produced in Scotland’ and a masterpiece of global significance.
She added: ‘Glasgow School of Art is also a publicly funded institution so it is right that the parliament hears the concerns of these witnesses, all of whom have extensive knowledge of, and a commitment to, the GSA as an institution and the Mackintosh Building as a cultural icon for Glasgow, Scotland and internationally.
‘While we cannot speculate on the immediate causes of this fire, we expect the panel to discuss how we got to this point, whether lessons were learned from the past and how to go forward in future.’
A spokesperson for The Glasgow School of Art said: ’Parliamentary Committees invite individuals and organisations with an interest in a subject to contribute to a process of information gathering, and we expect to be invited to participate in the process in due course.’
MacAlpine added that, after it has heard from the witnesses, it will make a decision on whether to take any further evidence.