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Mareel delay causes headaches all round

Dozens of Mareel events are to be cancelled or re-scheduled - Photo: Shetland Arts

THE DELAY in opening Shetland’s £12.1 million cinema and music venue Mareel is creating headaches as dozens of events planned for the summer have to be cancelled or re-scheduled.

Earlier this week Shetland Arts announced that the cultural hub would not be ready before July despite earlier assurances that it would open on 24 May.

Among the victims of the delay are Shetland’s first jazz festival, concerts planned by local promoter Davie Gardner and a midsummer festival, as well as many of Shetland Arts own events.

However Shetland Arts has rejected the charge that promoters were not being kept “in the loop”, saying they had shared information as quickly as possible.

Jeff Merrifield, of Shetland Jazz Club, said he spent the whole of Up Helly Aa night looking for alternative venues for his jazz festival as he made the rounds through the Lerwick halls.

“We had assurances from Shetland Arts all the time, and I now feel absolutely let down,” he said.

“I now have to find a venue for 350 to 400 people to put on the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. We will now spread the event round the islands, and have already fixed a gig at Busta House.”

Music agent Davie Gardner added that the lack of any “clear programming strategy” by Shetland Arts made his life as a promoter extremely difficult.

“I need to know what their programme is going to be, because we cannot afford to conflict. If I take the risk with one big gig, and that fails because something else is happening in Mareel, I could go out of business.

“It is very difficult to go to stakeholder meetings now, asking these questions and not really getting any answers.”

Local businessman Malcolm Younger said it was “very unfortunate” that the four day midsummer festival he had planned at Mareel had to be cancelled.

The annual carnival will still take place, he said, but the family event afterwards will have to be relocated to the Clickimin Leisure Complex.

Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons said their own Hansel of Film event, scheduled to coincide with the arrival of the Olympic Torch in Shetland on 10 June, would now take place in the Garrison Theatre.

The arts agency is also making alternative arrangements for its annual book and film festivals in early September, in case there are further hold ups with the North Ness building.

Insisting they had not kept people in the dark, he said: “We got the confirmation of a further delay on the 25 January, and we took only three days to consider that information. We then told people on the Monday, I think we responded as quickly as we could to the information that we were receiving.

“Just like them, we are having to rearrange events, having to postpone and to cancel events.”

Mr Gibbons said Shetland Arts had years of experience putting on shows and festivals throughout Shetland.

“We are actively programming by working with a number of people, including external promoters and programmers. There is no specific programme manager in place, but many places don’t have programme managers, and we don’t have any concerns about that.”

He added that his team was working hard to minimise the potential loss in earnings due to the latest delay.

Shetland Arts has already appointed a customer service and box office manager, as well as a bar and catering manager in the expectation of a May opening.

“The potential loss is a concern along with all the other things the delay generates, but it is not a significant financial cost.

“Part of the reason why we made the difficult decision and said very publicly that we were not going to open before we were confident about the completion of the building, is that we didn’t want to take the risk of financial loss, and didn’t want to mess around independent promoters, or our audiences.

“People need to get excited about the Mareel opening, and not have a number of false starts,” Mr Gibbons said.