When it opened in its present incarnation, about 20 years ago, the Tollbooth was being saved (at some cost) from dereliction. To let it again sink into dereliction seems at best short-sighted, at worst criminal. However, the use and content might benefit from being revisited - it doesn't have to continue as an arts/visitor centre with gallery space and small coffee shop, particularly in light of various other plans for town attractions.
Currently there seems to be at least four major buildings in Kirkcudbright looking for a use or change of use:
- The Tollbooth.
- The Town Hall, currently underused and earmarked as a probable site to incorporate the new permanent art gallery to show Kirkcudbright-related historical (and I hope contemporary) work; plus the public library and public toilets.
- The former Johnston School, which was offered a couple of years ago by the Council to the Kirkcudbright 2000 committee as a site for the permanent gallery, but this fell through in part due to vociferous objections by some factions in the town, to 'yet another art gallery'. It is now the subject of a petition to buy it at cost price (£300,000, having missed the free offer) for 'community use'. The previous plans for the gallery did in fact include plenty of scope for community and educational use, but either this didn't satisfy the 'community use' faction, or they didn't look at the plans when they were on public display.
- The former creamery, now empty. This wonderful 1930s factory building, sited right on the river and with ample parking space, would make a great site for a large-scale gallery and arts complex, with plenty of community space, educational workshops, artists' studios, a cinema... but of course it would take a few quid to convert. (this, by the way, is my own personal fantasy - I know of no group lobbying for this, though I have mentioned the idea to a few people!)
There are also several energetic interest groups active in Kirkcudbright:
- Dumfries and Galloway Council, who of course own the Tollbooth, the Town Hall and Johnston School, and whose primary interests at the moment seem to focus round cutting costs.
- Kirkcudbright 2000, who have been working since 2000 to realise their goal of a permanent art gallery in the town, and have raised interest by putting on major historic art exhibition each summer in the Town Hall.
- At least two, I think, different groups trying to 'save' Johnston School for different community uses.
I apologise if I have omitted anyone. I probably have. I should also mention that Kirkcudbright does already have a Community Centre, five (?) commercial galleries, one Council run gallery and one community run gallery. And the Wasps studios.
So do I have a solution? No, of course not. But wouldn't it be good if all of these issues could be talked about together, rather than as isolated problems and competing factions? If everyone, including the Council, could agree on a combined strategy that allowed everyone at least some of what they need, then all that effort and energy could move in the same direction. I know, pigs and flying...