Putting art at the heart of the digital revolution at The Tower

A new arts and digital media academy serving the West of Scotland has been hailed as a model of community collaboration between the arts, culture and technology.

Mixing cultures at The Tower

Photograph by: Adrian StansfieldMixing cultures at The Tower

Set up as a charity, and operated largely by volunteers, The Tower Arts Centre and Digital Academy, Helensburgh is at the forefront of helping to transform the cultural economy of the Clydeside community.

Located close to the town centre the old St Columba building, which was created in 1861 by celebrated architect William Spence who designed Glasgow’s City Theatre and the original Theatre Royal, has been given a new lease of life.

The 400-seat venue is now the latest and most technologically advanced culture and education venue outside Glasgow for lovers of the arts as well as students of the digital media revolution.

Performances from the National Theatre in London, the Berlin Philharmonic and concerts from London’s O2, sit comfortably alongside shows by local drama, music and dance groups and even school plays in The Tower’s packed programme of events.

In the last few months the screening of live Opera from the New York MET, London’s Royal Opera House and the English National Opera, in addition to ballet performances from the Bolshoi in Moscow and Royal Ballet at Sadler Wells have drawn audiences from across Argyll & Bute and beyond to Helensburgh.

Fiona Hyslop being interviewed by The Tower's in-house internet TV channel

Photograph by: Adrian StansfieldFiona Hyslop being interviewed by The Tower’s in-house internet TV channel

Unveiling a plaque to commemorate the official opening Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, described The Tower as a fantastic venue for a digital arts centre and a great example of a community project making the arts accessible to a wider audience.“Digital technology will change the world in so many ways but especially in the arts and performing arts,” said Ms Hyslop.

“The idea that an audience can see live events, from opera in New York to ballet in Moscow, here is fantastic.

“But, what I really love is the idea that the world can see what happens in here. The idea that performances here can be beamed out to the rest of the world is great.
“The Tower is a great opportunity for Helensburgh and for Scotland.”

In keeping with the objectives of the Scottish government to encourage more towns to become centres of creativity and enterprise many local businesses have enthusiastically embraced the academy. While some restaurants have introduced pre-theatre meal deals for Tower audiences others cater for parents whose children attend the Saturday morning film club, dance classes or music lessons.

“Our aim is to bring the best in cultural events from across the globe to the local community, support the arts in all its various forms and help create a vibrant and bustling town centre,” said Nicola Jamieson, General Manager of The Tower.

“We have built a magnificent stage with powerful sound and lighting capable of delivering a live performance experience, of everything from full orchestras and choirs through to pop and rock bands, that can’t be found anywhere outside of the major cities.

“Our facilities also provide plenty of space for the local community to stage their own performances, participate in music or dance lessons or join a variety of clubs promoting the creative arts.”

In addition to putting on films, live shows and exhibitions The Tower has partnered with local arts organisations, schools and businesses to champion digital skills training.

An officially authorised Apple Training Centre has been specially created inside The Tower and equipped with the latest and most powerful Apple computers so school children and adults can learn computer programming, coding and digital media skills.

“The next 12 months is going to be a tremendously exciting time for us,” said Ms Jamieson, who runs the centre with the aid of more than 30 community volunteers.

Piper at The Tower

Photograph by: Adrian StansfieldPiper at The Tower

“As befitting the home town of the inventor of television we host the Baird School of TV – Scotland’s first digital skills academy equipped with latest state-of-the-art 4k technology.

“The training school delivers essential digital media skills to the next generation of broadband television producers within a recognised and respected performance space.

“Helensburgh is justifiably proud of its link with John Logie Baird. We want to ensure we build on that inspirational connection and lead the way in helping develop the next generation of pioneers.”

Ms Hyslop, who was given a tour of the The Tower’s state-of-the art digital film and recording studios said one of Scotland’s key strengths is its creative industries.

“It’s so important we invest in the future so we have creative skills that will take our young people into the types of jobs we can only dream of,” said Ms Hyslop.

“Some of the technology here is really cutting edge. We really are on the cusp of a new digital revolution,” she added.

“Bringing this kind of technology and the arts together, with this kind of collaboration, provides opportunity for new ideas. It’s about building a cultural creative economy which will have very many practical and commercial benefits.”

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