Arches club closure: zero tolerance takes its toll

A couple of weeks ago I took part in the Arches’ Dark Behaviour: Queer Futures club event to celebrate the end of the BEHAVIOUR15 festival. As the night continued – a night of celebrations of queer identities, art and love, and being fucking weird (let’s just say “lip-syncing vaginas” and leave it there…) – I was wrapped up in the fact that the Arches is onto something great.

Well, as an internationally acclaimed arts venue, it has been for a while. If you look at the artists’ names which dominate the international contemporary theatre scene, many of them have performed at Arches events: TEAM, Ontroend Goed, Gob Squad. Meanwhile its close connections with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Contemporary Performance Practice course as well as Theatre courses at Glasgow University and other local universities and colleges sees a real commitment to providing a platform for emerging artists, many of whom have gone on to achieve national renown, such as Rosana Cade and Keiran Hurley.

Unfortunately, as pretty much everyone now knows, this is set to come to an end. The licensing board at Glasgow City Council has revoked the Arches’ late-night license, meaning it will no longer be able to serve alcohol past midnight, effectively putting an end to its clubbing days. Seeing as the arts venue only receives 15% of its funding from public subsidy however, the club and bar turnover contributes almost half of the venue’s income. Without this, it is difficult to see how the cultural side of the Arches’ activities can continue either.

The funny thing about this whole debacle is that – from my perspective – it is the arts community who have been most vocal in their outrage against this decision. While the club and the arts exist in the same warrens, they often seem like different worlds, where never the twain shall meet. Events like Dark Behaviour actually mark one of the rare occasions where the clubbers are also the people buying tickets to arts events.

Therefore, it is right that artists are dismayed. It is difficult to picture the cultural landscape of Glasgow without the Arches; it is difficult for emerging artists to see themselves fitting into that ecology without the Arches as a safe and supportive space for their work. Those who like the Arches because they can take drugs there on a Saturday night will find somewhere else to take drugs on a Saturday night. For artists, regardless of any drug-related proclivities, despite Glasgow’s vibrant arts scene, there is nowhere to provide the Arches’ peculiar brand of experimentalism and legitimacy.

However, while it may be easy to believe, as some have argued, that Police Scotland have been hankering after the closure of the Arches due to either personal vendetta, or simply not ‘getting’ art, it is in fact because of the huge drain of resources the Arches costs in its incidents of drug misuse. Yes, common sense says ‘drug users aren’t going to stop taking drugs just because the Arches isn’t there anymore’ but unfortunately we live in a society with a zero-tolerance attitude to drugs – until we challenge that, the common sense argument falls flat. In this climate, it is impossible to provide a ‘safe place’ and also have zero-tolerance.

The Arches have rightly pointed out the irony that their own staffs’ reports of drug misuse are being used against them. When safety measures are out in place and the drug use doesn’t decrease correspondingly, it’s difficult to see what the Arches is doing wrong, and equally what it can do right from now on from a licensing point of view. It’s not the management of the Arches which has shut it down, but the people taking drugs on the premises.

The closure of the Arches as a club venue isn’t actually punishment for the way it has been run, or for its success in the arts, and as such we can only hope something can be done to salvage these activities from this car-crash of a situation. Instead, the Arches has fallen victim to the ridiculous legal attitudes towards drug-use which remain at odds with any hope of a healthier, more socially conscious community.

If you’d like to support the public campaign to reinstate the Arches’ club license, sign the petition at https://www.change.org/p/glasgow-city-council-licensing-board-and-police-scotland-re-instate-the-arches-club-licence

[Caitlin MacColl – @turningtoaverse]

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