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Entrance to Glen Cinema

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.

Entrance to Glen Cinema

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.

Paisley Abbey

To mark the 90th anniversary of the Glen Cinema disaster a commemoration event is to take place in Paisley town centre on Saturday 7 December.

The event will begin with a lantern procession involving more than 150 young people from community groups and schools at 5.15pm, starting at Dunn Square, and journeying up St Mirren Brae, towards Abbey Close. Following the procession, a service at Paisley Abbey will see a number of local performers, and community groups pay tribute to the victims, survivors and their families.

Paisley Abbey

A number of invited guests will attend the service including survivors Robert Pope and Emily Brown along with their families.

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. As a result of the crush that followed more than 30 children were injured and 70 children died.

News of the disaster was far-reaching with letters of condolence being sent to the town from people across the globe. The impacts were also global – 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 a sufficient number of adult attendants to ensure safety of children.

In addition to the procession and service a commemorative film ‘The Glen Cinema Disaster’ directed by Paul Mothersole has been commissioned with ticketed, free screenings taking place on Saturday 7 December between 1pm and 4.15pm at POP Community & Arts Space in The Piazza Shopping Centre. A small exhibition of printed letters held in the Secret Collection will also be on display in POP from 7 – 20 December.

Louisa Mahon, Head of Marketing, Communications and Events at Renfrewshire Council, said: “The Glen Cinema disaster is a real tragic point in Paisley’s history with deeply traumatic consequences for so many families.

“The 90th anniversary gives us the opportunity to raise awareness of the disaster and reflect on what took place by paying tribute to and remembering the victims, survivors and their families.”

Members of the public who wish to pay their respects are encouraged to attend the lantern procession as there are only a limited number of tickets available for the Paisley Abbey service on a first come first served basis from InCube Shop, 9B Gilmour Street. Those who would like to participate in the procession can sign up to attend a Lantern Making workshop taking place on Saturday 30 November in POP, Piazza from 10am – 4pm – please be aware there are limited spaces available for this workshop.

Also, as part of the 90th anniversary commemorations an artist will be commissioned to create a public piece of art, in collaboration with the local community to commemorate and raise awareness of the disaster.

The event taking place on 7 December is in addition to the annual memorial service and wreath laying which takes place at Paisley Cenotaph on the morning of 31 December, which is run by community members and supported by Renfrewshire Council.

The Glen Cinema 90th anniversary commemoration event is funded by Renfrewshire Leisure and Renfrewshire Council through Renfrewshire Council’s Future Paisley programme.

To book a place at the lantern making workshop please visit: https://glencinemalanternworkshop.eventbrite.co.uk

To secure a ticket for The Glen Cinema Disaster film screening please visit: https://glencinemadisasterfilm.eventbrite.co.uk

A limited number of free tickets will be available to the public for the commemorative service at Paisley Abbey on a first come first served basis from InCube Shop, Paisley Office, 9B Gilmour St, Paisley PA1 1DG from Friday 22 November. The shop is open from 11am – 5pm Tuesday – Saturday.