Stories of Art in Action: Govanhill Picture House and GAMIS

Built in 1926, The Govanhill Picture House is placed at the heart of Govanhill and is steeped in history.

Operating as an Egyptian themed cinema for the first 35 years of its existence, in later years it was briefly used as a bingo hall, and then as a warehouse. In the years that followed, the once grandiose building fell into disrepair and neglect.

In 2018 curator Lydia Honeybone and artist Shireen Taylor saw the great wealth of untapped potential that resided within, and set upon an ambitious project to restore the derelict building to a site to view film in once again. Plans are underway to transform this historic monument into an arts hub for moving image, time based media, and public engagement.

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The project started when Lydia, director of the Queer Classics Film Festival sought a venue for one night only to screen two feature films, as part of their ‘I Would Rather be a Cyborg than a Goddess’ event. Both films, Ursula Mayer’s ‘Gonda’ and ‘Lucifer Rising’ by Kenneth Anger center around themes of spectacle and ritual with ‘Lucifer Rising’ filmed partially in Egypt, Govanhill Picture House seemed the perfect location. Surprised by the lack of appropriate, affordable spaces Lydia revisited a favourite empty, semi-derelict building in her neighbourhood, to seek out the owner and negotiate the possibility of using it for this one-off event.

The event was a resounding success: visitors were amazed to finally gain access to a building that has caught the imaginations of many and felt inaccessible for years.

Excited at the possibilities that the building offered, and concerned that it may fall into further disrepair, Lydia teamed up with Shireen to set up the organisation Glasgow Artists Moving Image Studios, to support similar ongoing events.

Since establishing GAMIS as a constituted community group in 2019, they have fundraised to bring cinema back to this historic building and save it from the Buildings at Risk Register.

They continue to work together to develop a public-facing programme, and gather local input on community interests in the site and archive the civic histories relating to the building and artists’ moving image in Glasgow.

Although lockdown put a pause on some of GAMIS’ immediate plans, they have still been working behind the scenes to plan things for the future.

“We are working with a sound artist called Heather Andrews who is very experienced in working with communities”, Shireen said. “With her, we are trying to gather stories around the neighbourhood, different things happening around the area and try to build some relationships through that. We’re looking to create an audio-visual piece of artwork from this, that captures these stories.”

Indeed, this project is deeply rooted in community, seeking to engage with the residents of the local area.

She continued: “Lydia and I both lived in Govanhill. It is a really interesting neighbourhood and is really incredibly diverse. We were really aware when we were developing this project that we want to reanimate a building in the community as much as it being a project in its own right.

“To do so, they have made collaborating with other community organisations in the area central to their project.

“We were invited to present a screening as part of Govanhill International Festival 2020, in partnership with local arts organisations Music Broth and Glasgow Zine Library. We put on Jean Cocteau’s 1946 classic La Belle et La Bete at the site of the former Hampden Picture House on Westmoreland Street. In order to reach a broader audience, posters were distributed in the local area in Urdu, Punjabi, Slovak, Romanian and English, five of the key languages spoken in Govanhill. The response on the night was very positive, especially given that this was the first opportunity for people to gather at a safe, social distance since lockdown began in March. The night ended with applause and requests for more events in the future.

“We’ve also been working alongside Marzanna Antionak from Thriving Places Govanhill (part of Glasgow Community Planning Partnership) who has made a database of languages in Govanhill: who can speak which language, and who can translate them. With this information, we’re hoping to produce programmes in a number of languages.

We are also part of the Govanhill Creative Group (led by Thriving Places Govanhill) with a broad group of local arts organisations such as Govanhill Baths Community Trust, Music Broth, Outwith Agency, Glasgow Zine Library, Rumpus Room, and others. With them, we have some exciting things in the works – such as a mutual lending library, outdoor cinema, and more.”

It seems that there are exciting times ahead for the Govanhill Picture House. Last year, their Glasgow Open Doors Day Festival event was attended by over 1000 visitors within three days, reflecting the keen interest in the building.

“It feels like we are still at the start, and there is much left to do. But we are looking forward to seeing where this goes.”