Issue 212
March/April 2020


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Mar 28, 2020

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New chapter for the "artists' colourmen"

Frances Anderson finds an encouraging answer in Edinburgh

In control: Christina Jansen, Kirsty Sumerling and Tommy Zyw

AMONG the many galleries in Edinburgh’s elegant New Town only one can claim to be Scotland’s oldest privately owned commercial gallery, and that is the Scottish Gallery.

Established in May 1842 the gallery began life in South St David Street as a firm of ‘Gilders, Framers and Artists’ Colourmen’. Trading as ‘Aitken Dott & Son’, it was founded by Aitken Dott, who was born in Cupar in 1915 where he was brought up. It then began exhibiting and selling work by Scotland’s top contemporary artists.

Surviving for 175 years and undergoing constant change is testament to the gallery’s ability to adapt. And only a few months ago, the gallery underwent a dramatic change by moving to employee ownership. Acquired by an employee ownership trust (EOT) as of October 2019, the EOT structure is the latest in a variety of ownership models the gallery has adapted over its long history.

With advice from Carole Leslie from Ownership Associates (employment ownership specialists) the gallery’s managing director, Christina Jansen, who has presided over several years of success and innovation, saw the opportunity for both continuity and ownership transformation.

Jansen says “Alongside my fellow directors and the wonderful team here, I am thrilled at this move and to reassure all our artists and stakeholders about our commitment to the future. We are also delighted that Kirsty Sumerling is now on the board of directors, having been with the gallery since 2014”.

Carole Leslie of Ownership Associates says:

“The Scottish Gallery had been through many forms of ownership over the years. A sale to an individual, or indeed a corporate shareholder, might have been the easiest route.

“However, Guy Peploe and his fellow directors were keen to find a succession solution that secured the future of the gallery for the long term. By selling to the employees, this iconic Scottish institution will continue to bring pleasure to locals and visitors for many generations to come.”

Shareholders, including gallery director Guy Peploe, who has served 35 years with the company, agreed to sell to the trust, ensuring that the Scottish Gallery has a stable, Scottish based owner as well as continuity of management and all the benefits of employee ownership.

Peploe says: “I look forward to many more years of involvement in a future-proof structure that should see the Scottish Gallery past its bicentenary.

“We are grateful to our chairman Will Whitehorn (also chairman of SEC and deputy chairman of Stagecoach) who is the architect of this project and a good example of a chairman acting in the interests of the company, the shareholders, the staff, our heritage and our future.”

The Scottish Gallery has championed contemporary art since its inception, and recent exhibitions have included a Victoria Crowe retrospective, art from Rebecca Collins and jewellery from Jackie Lillie.

The gallery currently curates and produces a monthly programme of diverse exhibitions, highlighting both emerging and established artists. It has witnessed a complete physical upgrading of its Georgian rooms to balance the requirement to display both historic and contemporary work. Today the visitor will discover beautiful spaces over two floors, including the sculpture garden.

Co-operative Development Scotland – the arm of Scottish Enterprise which supports business growth by promoting collaborative and employee ownership models – supported the directors by providing a business succession review and employee ownership feasibility study.

Carole Leslie of Ownership Associates guided the team through the transition process, and legal services were provided by Douglas Roberts of Lindsays.

The head of Co-operative Development Scotland, Clare Alexander, said: “It’s fantastic news that The Scottish Gallery has made the move to employee ownership. Statistics consistently demonstrate that employee-owned businesses benefit from higher levels of engagement and enhanced employee well-being, which can increase productivity and drive growth. The new structure marks a significant milestone in the gallery’s long history, and we wish the team every success for the future.”

There are around 110 employee-owned companies operating in Scotland, with approximately 7,500 employee-owners generating a combined turnover of around £950 million.

The Bank of Scotland provided a funding package to support the Employee Ownership Trust’s acquisition of the business. Stuart McNaughton, relationship manager at Bank of Scotland, said: “The Scottish Gallery is a lynchpin of Edinburgh’s vibrant and internationally renowned art community. We’re proud to support a shift in ownership model that safeguards its heritage and puts employees at the heart of its future.

“Employee ownership is gaining in popularity and the gallery views the model as a perfect fit. This agreement means the site will continue to provide a platform for Scottish creatives while employees share in its success”.

After 175 fruitful years of successful trading, it seems the gallery is going from strength to strength.

Will Whitehorn, the chairman, states: “One hundred and seventy five years of continuous trading is an astonishing achievement for a small company. The gallery is a living record and reflection of artistic and cultural evolution in Scotland.”

FRANCES ANDERSON


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