Two artists have been commissioned to create a public artwork to remember the victims and survivors of Paisley’s Glen Cinema disaster of 1929.
Artists Kerry Stewart, originally from Johnstone, and Rachel Lowther, who were appointed in the 90th year of the tragedy, have been chosen to work with community groups to develop a tribute to the disaster as a reminder of its lasting impact on the town.
The Glen Cinema tragedy took place on 31 December 1929 when a smoking film canister caused a panic during a packed children’s matinee where more than 600 children were present. The main exit doors had a metal gate that had been pulled shut stopping it from opening leading to a crush where 71 children died, and more than 30 children were injured.
Commenting on the commission Rachel said: “As a mother, I was immediately moved by the terrible story of what unfolded at Glen Cinema on Hogmanay 1929. From silent film to the town’s stunned silence, the lack of any memorial beyond that in the cemetery tells of a pain and loss so great it could barely be spoken.
“As an artist, I am drawn to this project because it is both potent and sensitive. It is a challenge to make a work of art that can speak to this event, that can carry the sadness but also transform it.”
Kerry added: “It is possible to mark great loss in a way that is meaningful and particular to those lost and those affected. I hope that together Rachel and I can achieve such a monument.”
This appointment is Kerry and Rachel’s first public commission as a partnership. Both women studied at the prestigious Chelsea College of Art in London with Kerry’s background being in sculpture, performance and Fine Art and History of Art while Rachel’s focus is largely in sculpture. They have also both worked with Glasgow School of Art on separate projects.
They will shortly begin to reach out and engage with local community groups about the project with the ambition that the artwork would be unveiled by the end of 2020.
The artists said: “We are keen to create work within communities, that speaks directly to human experience. We intend to start the project by holding a series of workshops with different groups in Paisley, young and old; to try to understand the impacts of the disaster on the town, as it moved through time, transforming Paisley.
“We also intend to start conversations about what makes a good memorial and how tragedy can be marked with love, dignity and spirit. We have several ideas that we intend to put to the community for scrutiny and discussion, until a project emerges that we hope will have the support of the people of Paisley.
“We are extremely grateful for this opportunity and look forward to getting to know the people of Paisley.”
The project is supported by Future Paisley – a radical and wide-ranging programme of events, activity and investment which uses the town’s unique and internationally-significant cultural story to transform its future.
Paisley Partnership Strategic Lead on Cultural Regeneration for Renfrewshire Council, Leonie Bell, said: “The Glen Cinema disaster is such a tragic part of Paisley’s history. The 90th anniversary at the end of last year was a major milestone and it’s important that it continues to remain in the public consciousness in Paisley and beyond.
“We’re delighted to have artists of Kerry and Rachel’s calibre onboard to engage with survivors, their families and community groups to create a truly collaborative, sensitive and lasting commemoration of a tragedy which had such devastating and lasting impacts both locally and globally.”
The artists were commissioned at the end of 2019 as part of a wider programme of events to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Glen Cinema disaster.