Supporting wee independent venues: why and how

Harry Giles, 28 July 2012

How do we stop wee independent venues from closing, and make new ones happen?

Angie, Harry, Janis, Jen, Laura, Murray, Peter, and others


Edinburgh: over the last few years, all our independent performance spaces have been closing down, and nothing new has been coming in its place. All the new venues are backed by big money: nothing small and flexible is around. The lack of a scene impedes venues, the lack of venues impedes the scene.

Glasgow: “Only one venue programs what I do, and I feel like they control my career.” There are fewer avenues than there used to be.

A lack of central support – funding and governmental – impedes new venues and lets old ones fall. Small venues are particularly vulnerable, financially and organisationally. There's a bureaucratic block through licensing regulation. There's no money to make it happen. Theatre requires a certain standard of space, and it's hard to find them, and afford them. As small spaces grow, they become established and thus harder to enter, so you need new spaces to enter the gap. It needs to be driven by energetic people, and by a community.

We need the help of people with power, but who with power is going to support what challenges it?


Small spaces are flexible, and support experimentation. They can be truly artist led: places where artists make and perform, where they control what's happening. They're agile. They're the grassroots, vital to talent development. They're community resources. There are fewer financial pressures, and more autonomy. They're part of the ecology of theatre.


Venues can help each other. We can develop a support network among small spaces. We can get the big fish to support the little fish, if we make the case properly. We can learn from each other.

Venues can serve multiple community functions. They can run paid facilities and hire space alongside free and cheap space.

Venues can grow organically, respond to where they are. It's important to serve the community they're part of – and when they have successes, to shout about it.

We need more central support. Funding. Can Councils give us buildings? Can't we look after empty buildings for them, to benefit them and the community? The commercial sector is already doing this: artists take over empty office blocks in return

for rates reduction. We need authorities to take an interest in keeping smaller venues thriving: it's not all about prestige projects.

But even as we ask for more central support, we also need power to be devolved. We need resources, and to be trusted with the autonomy to use them.

Venues don't need to be in the city centre. Outlying communities have great audiences in them, and the rent is cheaper. Going to an area with less arts access is beneficial in itself.

Why don't we have pub theatre? Pubs who rent their top rooms cheaply, for theatre, to support a better venueography? How could we encourage this?


Is the idea of an independent venue a little dated now? Is “independent” the wrong word? Do we want something alternative, radical, challenging, or do small venues need to serve a different community function? Do we need to invent something new? What more can we offer to society?


Small, flexible venues are all very well, but Scotland also has a real lack of support for mid-career artists. We need to remember this.


For Laura and Murray to make a new venue happen in Glasgow.

For Forest to come back in Edinburgh. And new spaces.

For a good conversation to happen about the question: joining together different venues, artists, council and government and funder representatives.

A fund for opening up new buildings.

A less competitive business model, so that we grow audiences together.


Notes taken by Harry - [email protected]. They aim to be representative of the conversation, but of course will have my own slant. Please contact if you're interested in organising a big conversartion/meeting thing on the wee venue question.


pub theatre, independent venues, artists spaces, ecology, Venues, Funding, asset transfer, funding, venues, conference, artist-led, venueography, mid-career artists, new spaces