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.

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Notes to editors

Glen Cinema Disaster 1929

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.

News of the disaster was far-reaching with letters of condolence being sent to the town from people across the globe. The impacts were global as well – as the Cinematograph Act 1909 was then amended to ensure all cinemas had more exits, that doors opened outwards and were fitted with push bars. A limitation was also placed on the capacity of cinemas and a requirement for an appropriate number of adult attendants to be present to ensure the safety of children.

The Glen Cinema survivors and their families continue to commemorate the disaster every Hogmanay alongside members of the local community. They gather at 11am at the Cenotaph in Paisley town centre where they lay a wreath for those who lost their lives that day.

The Glen Cinema disaster of 1929 is considered one of Scotland’s worst human tragedies.

Artist Biographies

Rachel Lowther

Predominantly working in sculpture, Rachel Lowther is an artist who works in a variety of media including installation, photography, video, embroidery and drawing. Based in Glasgow, Rachel Lowther studied at Chelsea College of Art in London (BA), The Staedelschule Frankfurt (as guest of Georg Herold), and Hunter College, New York (MFA), where she lived for 14 years, exhibiting her artwork and curating exhibitions. Since moving to Glasgow from the US 11 years ago, she has continued to show her work, co-formed an artist-run space, taught art to children and has worked on community-based campaigns.

Exhibition venues include National Portrait Gallery, London; Turbinehallerne, Copenhagen; The Approach, London; Momenta Art, NYC; Sculpture Centre, NYC; Hudson River Museum, NY; Atlanta Contemporary Art Centre; Threadwaxing Space, NYC; Maschenmode / Guido Baudach, Berlin; Kunstlerhaus Mousonturm, Frankfurt; Participant, NYC; Glasgow School of Art.

In 2015-16 Lowther was commissioned by the Glasgow School of Art, supported by Museums Galleries Scotland WW1 Fund, to undertake research into GSA Archives and Collections WW1 holdings and produce artworks resulting from this process. This resulted in two exhibitions: Nothing compares to the first time getting shot at and From the service of Venus to the worship of Mars, at the Reid Gallery and Reid ground floor, GSA in 2016.

Kerry Stewart

Kerry Stewart studied History of Art at the University of Edinburgh (MA) , Fine Art (BA) at Chelsea College of Art and Contemporary Art Theory (MA) at Goldsmiths.

She lives and works in London. She previously taught at Goldsmiths and is currently a lecturer at the University of Westminster.

Solo shows include CCA, Glasgow, Royal Festival Hall, London Tate Liverpool Project Space, Marion Boeski Gallery, New York, Barbara Thumm Gallery, Berlin, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, DA2, Salamanca, Spain, Beaconsfield, London.

Group shows at Hayward Gallery, ICA, Camden Art Centre, City Racing, The Approach Gallery, Saatchi Gallery in London, Scottish Museum of Modern Art, Edinburgh, National Galerie, Berlin, British School at Rome, MCA, Chicago, MoMA, Sydney.

She has also been involved with Grizedale Arts in projects and shows in Tokyo, Grizedale and PS1 New York.

She took part in both New Contemporaries and the British Art Show.

Performance work has been shown at Tate Britain, Beaconsfield and Frieze in London, Grizedale in the Lake District and Ikebokuro, Tokyo.

Kerry has experience of two major public art commissions including one at BT HQ, Glasgow

Future Paisley

Future Paisley is a programme of economic, social and physical regeneration building on work already done to use Paisley’s internationally-significant culture and heritage story to change its fortunes. It builds on the momentum felt during the town’s UK City of Culture 2021 bid.

Renfrewshire Council is the main funding agency of Future Paisley and Renfrewshire Leisure is the main delivery partner. There is also support from a number of local and national partners

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