An Lanntair was opened by the acclaimed Lewis poet and writer Iain Crichton Smith on 8th March 1985 in the former Council Chambers of Stornoway Town Hall, which was our home until the opening of the new-build Arts Centre in 2005. From then, essentially, our history breaks down into three 10 year phases.
The initiative to create an art gallery came from founding members Malcolm Maclean (artist, cartoonist and art teacher), Andy Bruce (architect) and Sam Maynard (then photographer at the Stornoway Gazette and now Vice President of Raw TV USA). Other signatories to the original constitution were Ken Kennedy, Murdo John Macleod, Agnes Rennie, the late Donnie Maclean, Ina Maciver, Dr Finlay Macleod (who gave An Lanntair its name), Deirdre Macdonald and the late Robbie Neish (who designed our logo). They constituted An Lanntair as a non-profit limited company with charitable status – a community enterprise with membership open to all.
Malcolm, Sam and Andy programmed and led the development of An Lanntair for its first few years and created a series of events and touring exhibitions that built a reputation for ambition, innovation and quality. Their declared aim was to “establish a creative space where new ideas could be explored”- a place that promoted the artists and culture of the Hebrides to the world and brought new arts experience to the islands. We were the first exhibition space in Scotland to adopt a Gaelic policy and the early programme ranged from Seann Nos song events to world music star Ali Farka Toure.
The opening exhibition featured young island photographer Murdo Macleod and our first major touring exhibition was As an Fhearann: From the Land to celebrate the Centenary of the 1886 Crofting Act. This show – accompanied by a landmark book and a special Scotsman supplement – brought the work of contemporary artists like Will Maclean and John Byrne together with that of key historical figures such as William MacTaggart, Thomas Faed and Paul Strand. It toured Scotland’s major galleries and in 1989 went coast-to-coast across Canada for two years. Other early exhibitions created and premiered at An Lanntair include Togail Tir: The Map of The Hebrides, Ewan Bain’s Angus Og and Erik Hoffman’s Portraits from the Western Edge which toured to Germany. Our exhibitions have also been shown at the National Museums and the National Libraries of Scotland, the People’s Palace and CCA in Glasgow, the London Irish Festival, the Interceltique Festival in Brittany and the National Museum of Slovakia among others. At one point An Lanntair had four exhibitions on show in four galleries simultaneously.
The decade from 1985 – 1995 was about establishing the organisation, developing skills, building links with the community, and exporting our programme. Few would have predicted on the launch evening – despite the optimism, enthusiasm and support on show – that the organisation would develop exponentially, become a major employer and 30 years later be at the cultural epicentre of the Highlands and Islands. And that one day, it would be difficult to imagine Stornoway without it.
GSA graduate Roddy Murray was initially appointed as Gallery Supervisor on a one-year contract and in the 1990s went on to Head An Lanntair and guide it to the organisation we have today.
Long-standing relationships were formed with many artists, among them Steve Dilworth, Louise Scullion, the late George Wyllie, Phil Cunningham & Aly Bain and support given to [then] developing talent like Iain Morrison, Willie Campbell and Kevin Macneil. In 1995 we won the STB’s Arts & Tourism Award for Calanais: The Atlantic Stones commissioned to celebrate our 10th anniversary.
At that time, we commissioned a feasibility study on the demand and potential for a new arts centre. A 10 year campaign aided by Lottery funding saw the new £6m building open on the 1st October 2005. The opening event was the world premiere of I Was a Beautiful Day by Iain Finlay Macleod, with the Traverse Theatre. Our 25th Anniversary in 2010 was marked by a fundraising extravaganza with [now] Dr Who, Peter Capaldi, while the Gnuis exhibition showcased Murdo Macleod’s photographs from his highly successful career as a Guardian photojournalist.
We continue to broadcast our cultural mission and respond to the challenge and opportunity of change and growth. Programme development has seen our portfolio expand to encompass residencies, special projects, dance development, partnerships with a range of festivals and TV links such as the Katie Morag exhibition.
Current work includes a major project called Purvai inspired by Colonel Colin Mackenzie, born in Stornoway in 1754, who became the first surveyor General of India. Another ongoing project called Uncharted has links to communities in Australia and India. Education and Outreach covers activity in schools, community, health, and social inclusion including clients with dementia. Performing Arts ranges across multiple genres of music to theatre, dance and multi-discipline work. There is a close relationship with the Hebridean Celtic Festival. Cinema goes from strength to strength and Faclan: The Hebridean Book Festival is among the highlights of the year. We have also garnered significant awards, notably the Scottish Traditional Music Venue of the Year and – most recently – Scotland’s Creative Place Award 2015.