The £2.2m Inverness Creative Academy, the first major creative hub in the Highlands, has opened its doors to artists and makers from across the region and beyond.
The first major arts hub in the Highlands is now open – providing urgently needed studios for everyone from photographers and textile designers to an artist who knits glass.
The two-phase Inverness Creative Academy project aims to boost the economy by bringing together artists, makers and creative companies in a high-profile centre with the facilities they need to flourish.
The hub has given a new future to a listed Victorian former Inverness Royal Academy building that was lying empty for years.
Creative hubs are popular across Europe. They have been successfully pioneered in Scotland by Wasps Artists’ Studios – which is behind the Inverness development – whose centres include South Block in Glasgow.
The project is already showing its worth by providing high-quality, affordable workspace to locally based people who want to live and work in the Highlands but could not find studios.
Among them is abstract artist Haywood John, from Inverness, who said: ‘I have been working in half of my garage until now – this is just brilliant. It makes an amazing difference to have a studio like this. It’s great for artists and great for Inverness.’
There is also the award-winning Evija Laivina.
She said: ‘I have actually studied in the Midmills buildings. It was an amazing place and they were some of the happiest days of my life. Rescuing the building and turning it into studios like this is a wonderful thing for Inverness.
‘I make a lot of props for my work and it is very challenging to do this without proper studio space. I am also really looking forward to being in an environment with other artists – it’s inspirational and it opens up all sorts of collaborative possibilities.’
The Inverness Creative Academy is also attracting fresh talent to the area including Catherine Carr, who knits and crochets glass, who moved to Inverness from England especially for the studio space .
She said: ‘Finding studio space has always been a nightmare. So when I heard about the old academy buildings in Inverness I was really excited. I had visited artists in Wasps studios before and knew they were good.
‘We have bought a house just a couple of hundred yards away, it’s perfect. I am really looking forward to being among a group of artists again. Working alone in your own studio can be isolating.’
The completion of Phase 1 involved a £2.2 million investment that restored one of the B Listed Victorian former school buildings to create 30 studios and an exhibition space. Phase 2 will give a new future to the second building focussing on creative industries in 18 months time.
Many people have fond memories of the Midmills buildings, which were part of the Inverness Royal Academy and later Inverness College.
Audrey Carlin, Wasps chief executive officer, said: ‘The opening of the Inverness Creative Academy is something to celebrate. It provides excellent artists and makers with a new home in the heart of Inverness.
‘The Highlands is a region of huge talent and creativity, but many people have been held back or forced to leave because there is too little studio space. The opening of the creative academy is an important first step towards
reversing this trend and helping to build the strongest and most vibrant possible creative economy.’
Fundraising is underway for the second phase of the wider £5.7 million Inverness Creative Academy scheme which will include offices for creative companies, a public café, performance and events space plus workshop areas.
When both phases are complete the creative academy is expected to a total of 109 full-time equivalent jobs generating wage earnings of £2.7 million a year.
The project is supported by The Highland Council, HIE, The Scottish Government, Inverness City Heritage Trust and McCarthy and Stone Retirement Lifestyles Limited.
It represents a significant contribution to HIE’s Creative Industries Strategy which aimed to attract inward investment and make the Highlands an attractive location for creative individuals and enterprises.