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Aberdeen Theatres: Aberdeen Arts Centre
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Aberdeen Theatres: Aberdeen Arts Centre

Historic Photographs
David Oswald
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Aberdeen Theatres: Aberdeen Arts Centre
Historic Photographs
Aberdeen Theatres: Aberdeen Arts Centre
In 1960 the education committee of Aberdeen Town Council proposed the conversion of the empty North and Trinity Parish Church into an adult education and civic arts centre. The plan was given final approval in February 1961, much to the delight of Aberdeen's art enthusiasts.

The Evening Express detailed the need for such a venue at the time by describing the difficulties faced by the William Gavin Players, a local drama group, in staging a play earlier that week in the ballroom of the Music Hall. They had to overcome the roar of a nearby wrestling audience, the incessant ringing of an unanswered telephone, a cramped stage and poor acoustics.

A temporary restriction on capital expenditure and a particularly severe winter caused delays for the conversion. Work began in late 1961 and was concluded by the autumn of 1963. The work cost around £33,000 and saw the reconstruction of the interior and a thorough re-vamp for the building's exterior. At one point the new centre was going to be called Longacre, but this idea was scrapped in favour of Aberdeen Arts Centre.

The completed venue was opened on 18th October 1963 by Sir Herbert Read (1893-1968), an art critic, poet and anarchist philosopher. In his speech Read criticised the main political parties of the day for neglecting the development of the arts and the human imagination in favour of a blind drive for scientific and technological efficiency.

In addition to the 385-seat auditorium, the venue had an exhibition space, a lounge, and a tea bar. The Arts Centre has remained the focal point for local arts groups and arts education to this day. It has also served as a meeting place and provided a useful stage for theatrical productions of all types.

In 1998, facing the need to cut £17.5 million from their budget, Aberdeen City Council withdrew their funding from the Arts Centre. This left the future of the venue in danger. A popular campaign to avoid its closure was led by Annie Inglis MBE (1922-2010), Aberdeen's first lady of theatre.

This led to the Aberdeen Arts Centre Association taking over the venue on a voluntary basis and the eventual formation of the Castlegate Arts Limited, a company with charitable status who continue to run the venue today.

Over the years the Arts Centre has played host to many noted local theatre groups like the Attic Theatre Co., The Revue Group, the aforementioned William Gavin Players, Phoenix Theatre, the Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Aberdeen Opera Company, Confederate Theatre, Dragongate Theatre, and no doubt many more. It remains a much-loved venue for performers and audiences of all ages.
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