It could take “decades” before the £20 million Aberdeen Art Gallery fundraising target is reached at the current rate of public donations – but opposition councillors say the taxpayer shouldn’t be asked to “bridge the gap”.
Initially billed at £30 million, the extensive renovation of the gallery began in 2015, with the cultural attraction originally due to reopen in late 2017.
Additional costs and setbacks, however, pushed the grand reopening back to November 2 last year – and the price tag up to £34.6 million.
The original cost of the project was split into three, with £10 million coming from the city council, £10 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund and an extra £10 million to be gathered from public donations, big and small.
Of the council’s “overall philanthropic fundraising target” of £20 million – comprising both the cash from the lottery fund and the public – around £14.9 million has been generated so far.
In the first 17 weeks of its reopening, members of the public have donated on average £1,764 a week at the gallery to help the council meet its goal for funding the works.
Without an extra influx of philanthropic cash from other sources such as sponsorship, however, at the current rate of public support it would take around 55 years for the remaining £5.1 million to be paid fully.
Despite strong visitor number, Liberal Democrat councillor Martin Greig continues to believe the art gallery overhaul to have been a “reckless vanity project pushed forward by the Labour, Independent and Conservative coalition”.
He said: “They insisted on driving on even though the money was not in place and it was not affordable.
“Unfortunately, their arrogance has been unstoppable. They leave behind a monumental legacy of failure.
“It is poor financial management to build without having sufficient funds. The council deliberately put itself into debt in an extremely harsh economic climate.
“It is not the time to expect people to be in a position to put their hands in their pockets to bridge the gap.
“We are now faced with the prospect of decades before the overdue millions are paid.”
The council is currently unable to say how much money still needs to be paid to cover the final £34.6 million cost of the project because the authority is still in the process of adjudication with the revamp project’s contractor.
There are also other “outstanding works issues to be resolved by various parties”, according to an Aberdeen City Council document.
Councillor Marie Boulton, the city council’s culture spokeswoman, said the council is working on additional fundraising projects.
She said: “Since it reopened, the transformed Aberdeen Art Gallery has exceeded all our expectations with over 100,000 visits of the anticipated annual footfall of 250,000 in the first three months alone.
“We are now well in excess of that and, with a phenomenal 5,000 visitors coming along during the late-night opening over the Spectra weekend, the gallery is proving its worth as a major tourist attraction in the city.
“Visitors have shown their appreciation and generosity by having now donated in excess of £30,000, the vast majority of that coming from cash, and tap and pay donations, in the building.
“The council has underwritten the project and has had valuable support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund of £10 million, a further £1 million from BP and £1.5 million from the UK Government’s Libor Fund and welcomed additional donations from individuals, trusts and organisations.
“Fundraising is ongoing, as has always been the intention, not only through donations from the hundreds of thousands of visitors who will enjoy the refurbished gallery and the exhibitions it will attract, but also through ongoing sponsorship opportunities, artwork adoption and other fundraising activities which we are working hard behind the scenes to bring to fruition.”
‘We would be closer to meeting our target if the Scottish Government had shown Aberdeen the same generosity as was shown to Dundee with the creation of the V&A’
Last year, the city council’s co-leaders Douglas Lumsden and Jenny Laing became embroiled in a row with the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon over funding for the art gallery project.
During First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said the city council had never asked ministers for funding for the project, but it later emerged that an application had been submitted to Creative Scotland – and subsequently rejected – in 2013.
Mr Lumsden and Mrs Laing both argued the Granite City’s art gallery was deserving of Scottish Government cash, particularly as £38 million was given to help build the V&A in Dundee.
But in Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said allegations the two funding decisions were politically motivated was “absolutely not true”.
Mr Lumsden said: “As we always said, the fundraising efforts would continue after the fantastic Art Gallery reopened.
“We would be closer to meeting our target if the Scottish Government had shown Aberdeen the same generosity as was shown to Dundee with the creation of the V&A.
“Not a single penny was donated by the Scottish Government for the project.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “There was no direct approach to the Scottish Government from Aberdeen City Council at planning or business case stages, as would normally be standard practice for funding requests.
“While Aberdeen City Council requested the funding from the Libor Fund, administered by the UK Government, there was no equivalent Libor or similar fund for the Scottish Government to make available at the very late stage of the project when the council made this approach and we have not received any further applications from the council.
“Aberdeen City Council will receive £390.2 million in 2020-21. Together with their opportunity to increase their council tax by 3% in real terms, the council will have an additional £28.6 million, or 8.4%, to support their day-to-day services, compared with 2019-20.”