The first major creative hub in the Highlands has been officially opened this week.
Artists and makers began moving in towards the end of last year after the £2.2m restoration and renewal of the Midmills Buildings’ arts and science extension that was formerly part of the Inverness Royal Academy and later Inverness College.
The official opening set the seal on the first phase of a wider scheme by Wasps Artists’ Studios and has created affordable workspaces for 39 artists and makers
A specially commissioned triptych portrait was presented to the Provost of Inverness when she officially opened the facility.
The painting shows Councillor Helen Carmichael from three slightly different angles and is the work of David Fallow, one of the first artists to take up a studio at the new Inverness Creative Academy.
David’s portrait echoes another triptych (artist unknown), which shows civil engineer and one-time Inverness Royal Academy student Joseph Mitchell, and hangs behind the Provost’s desk.
It will join a group of paintings of significant figures from the area’s past, such as Sir Henry Raeburn’s portrait of John Mackintosh, who was Provost at the end of the 18thth century and start of the 19th.
The official opening and presentation took place when friends, supporters and partners toured the building and met some of the new tenants.
They also learned more about the plans for Phase 2 of the £5.7 million project which will offer 54 desk spaces for cultural and social enterprises and creative businesses, plus a public café.
David said: ‘It’s been a fascinating portrait to paint. Helen is a lovely person, but she has an inner strength that I have tried to bring into the finished work.
‘As you enter her office you are confronted by the superb Raeburn. But what really caught my eye was the triptych of Joseph Mitchell. It’s a beautiful piece of work and I thought it would be interesting to do another one that would act as a counterpoint.’
David, who was commissioned to paint the portrait by Wasps, has previously created a triptych of Germaine Greer.
City Leader Councillor Helen Carmichael originally became Provost in 2015 and was the first woman to hold the post in its 600-year history. She was re-elected in 2017.
She said: ‘I was delighted to be invited to open the first phase of Inverness Creative Academy. It is wonderful to see the energy that the artists have brought to a building that has always played an important role in the life of the region.
‘I now look forward to delivery of Phase 2 which will complete this wonderful complex for the benefit of creative people across the Highlands, allowing them to stay in the region and practise their art.
‘I am also honoured to have a ‘present Provost portrait’ painted by David Fallow. It will take pride of place in the Provost office in Inverness Town House.’
The vacant Midmills site has been redeveloped thanks to a collaboration between Highland Council, Wasps and a private housebuilder. The total investment of £15 million has transformed it into a new residential and creative community in the heart of the city.
The Inverness Creative Academy project also sits within a wider set of initiatives to enhance cultural business and tourism across the Highlands, including finding new uses for Inverness Castle.
As one of the largest developments of its kind outsidethe Central Belt it is expected to lead to 109 full-time equivalent jobs generating annual wage earnings of £2.7 million.
Like many Wasps initiatives it adds up to much more than the sum of its parts. At one level it is about affordable, quality space to work, exhibit and run classes and workshops. At another it is a place to experiment, collaborate and cross-fertilise.
Audrey Carlin, Wasps chief executive officer, said: ‘The official opening is a proud moment for us and a chance to thank all of the team, partners and supporters who have helped our plan for the first major creative hub in the Highland to become a reality.
‘We want this project to play a truly significant role in developing the arts and cultural economy of the Highlands – offering opportunities to creative people of all kinds.
‘It seems fitting that we marked the opening by presenting the Provost with a portrait that will become part of the city’s art collection and that has been painted by one of the first artists to take up one of the new studios.
‘Next comes Phase 2 and we look forward to a close and continued partnership with the council and all the others who have helped us reach this stage.’
Wasps already provides good-quality studios, workshops, offices and other facilities for 900 creative people in centres from The Borders to Shetland.
The Creative Academy will be a major plus for Highlands, helping the region tap into the growing importance of the creative industries, which generates £3.7 billion a year for the Scottish economy and provides 73,600 jobs.