Tower Digital Arts Centre
83 Sinclair Street,
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Tower Digital Arts Centre (Official)
Functions: Movies (First Run)
Helensburgh, located on the north shore of the Firth of Clyde, in Argyll & Bute, is not far from Her Majesty’s Naval Base, Clyde, at Faslane, the home of the UK’s nuclear submarines.
Semi-retired social entrepreneur Brian Keating, formerly an executive with Apple, had the idea of commemorating this by founding a submarine museum. Having set up the Scottish Submarine Trust, he acquired the former St. Columba church complex in 2014. Designed by architect William Spence, responsible for Glasgow’s City Theatre and Theatre Royal, this had been built in 1831, but was converted into a community hall in 1861. (Oscar Wilde spoke there in 1888.)
The museum will present the history of the submarine service, display the UK’s first digital memorial and use state of the art technologies to deliver immersive film and digital VR presentations about the many historic milestones in the development of submarines. The main exhibit will be midget submarine X-51 HMS Stickleback, built in 1954 and on loan from the Ministry of Defence.
When I visited, in June 2017, I was fortunate to meet Brian Keating. He showed me the museum, which was still very much a work in progress.
I was, however, there to watch a film! Having acquired this fairly substantial set of buildings, Brian set up a further charity, the Tower Arts Centre and Digital Academy, which was officially opened by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, on 26th August 2015. Live performances were accompanied by occasional film shows. However, I gather the live shows were not that well supported, so the decision was made to upgrade the projection equipment to full digital cinema quality. The Tower Digital Arts Centre duly opened on 15th April 2016 with the remake of Disney’s “Jungle Book”.
There are two screens. The one in the former church hall has rows of sofas at the rear, behind rows of old-fashioned, wooden, cinema seats. For regular film shows, the capacity is 153. However, that can be increased to about 250 if pews, behind curtains down each side, are also utilised, and there are nominally a further 50 or so seats in the balcony, although that is currently being refurbished and is not in use. There is very little foyer space, so a temporary bar/concession counter has been built in one corner at the back of this auditorium; this will be relocated upstairs as part of the ongoing work.
The second screen was constructed in a building at the side of the church. That seats 42, on raked seating.
I very much enjoyed my visit on Sunday 25th June 2017, when I saw “Hampstead”, starring Diane Keaton and Brendon Gleason, in the main screen, and it was a pleasure to meet Brian and members of his enthusiastic team. Lottery funding is being sought so that a completely new building can be erected on adjacent vacant land that will house two further screens, one on top of the other, with 77 and 52 seats. At the same time, another new building will be the base for digital creative workshops, linking in with local education establishments. I was delighted to hear of these very ambitious plans, and I look forward to a return visit to see the ‘enhanced’ cinema - and the museum!
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