The two-phase Inverness Creative Academy project, which is supported by HIE, aims to boost the economy by bringing together artists, makers and creative companies in a high-profile centre with the facilities they need to flourish.
Creative hubs are popular across Europe. They have been successfully pioneered in Scotland by Wasps Artists’ Studios – which is behind the Inverness development – whose centres include South Block in Glasgow.
The project is already showing its worth by providing high-quality, affordable workspace to locally based people who want to live and work in the Highlands but could not find studios.
The Inverness Creative Academy is also attracting fresh talent to the area including Catherine Carr, who knits and crochets glass, who moved to Inverness from England especially for the studio space.
She said: “Finding studio space has always been a nightmare. So when I heard about the old academy buildings in Inverness I was really excited. I had visited artists in Wasps studios before and knew they were good.
“We have bought a house just a couple of hundred yards away, it’s perfect. I am really looking forward to being among a group of artists again. Working alone in your own studio can be isolating.”
The completion of Phase 1 involved a £2.2 million investment that restored one of the B Listed Victorian former school buildings to create 30 studios and an exhibition space. Phase 2 will give a new future to the second building focussing on creative industries in 18 months time.
Many people have fond memories of the Midmills buildings, which were part of the Inverness Royal Academy and later Inverness College.
James Gibbs, area manager at HIE’s Inner Moray Firth team, said: “Wasps have built a strong sustainable model for supporting creative communities in Scotland and we are delighted to have assisted them with a £420,000 grant towards this first phase of the Creative Academy development.
“The hub will offer shared work spaces for a variety of creative and cultural businesses and will attract young people to the area as well as create jobs for local people. At the same time, the project will bring a significant building back to life to support the rich creative community in the Inner Moray Firth area.”
The creative academy scheme is set within a wider set of initiatives to enhance cultural business and tourism, including finding new uses for Inverness Castle.
Audrey Carlin, Wasps Chief Executive Officer, said: “The opening of the Inverness Creative Academy is something to celebrate. It provides excellent artists and makers with a new home in the heart of Inverness.
“The Highlands is a region of huge talent and creativity, but many people have been held back or forced to leave because there is too little studio space. The opening of the creative academy is an important first step towards reversing this trend and helping to build the strongest and most vibrant possible creative economy.”
Wasps is Scotland’s largest creative community and provides studios, workshops, offices and other facilities for 1,000 creative people in centres from The Borders to Shetland. In recent years it has created new facilities in the Highlands and Islands with projects on Skye, Orkney and in Nairn.
Fundraising is underway for the second phase of the wider £5.7 million Inverness Creative Academy scheme which will include offices for creative companies, a public café, performance and events space plus workshop areas.
When both phases are complete the creative academy is expected to a total of 109 full-time equivalent jobs generating wage earnings of £2.7 million a year.
One of the strongest supporters of the academy scheme is the University of the Highlands and Islands which hopes that it will enable more of its graduates to build careers in the region.