Friday, December 27, 2013


Mareel’s cinema figures continue to surpass all expectations
2013-07-03 11:59:54-04

The popularity of Mareel’s two cinema screens is showing no sign of letting up. Attendances have passed the 80,000 mark in the ten months since the venue opened – just over double the 39,000 projected for the first full year and the equivalent of three visits for every islander.

One can only be pleased to see the new arts centre in Lerwick is being used so well. The report in The Shetland Times told of an impressive figure: 80,000 cinema attendances in ten months! The temptation was to deconstruct this claim to see if ordinary experience might confirm it. It seemed that numbers have always been a problem for the Mareel when they referred to dollars, so could this claim correct? Council bailed out the Mareel to the tune of an extra one million pounds.

Over a period of ten months, the average cinema attendance is 8,000 persons per month. To put this in context, Lerwick has a population of about 7,500, with the population for the whole of scattered islands of Shetland being about 23,000. If one assumes that the Mareel is open every day, this gives a conservative average cinema attendance of about 250 persons a day, every day of the year: about three percent of the population of Lerwick.

Wikipedia records that the Mareel has two cinemas, one accommodating ‘about 160 people’, the other ‘about 40 people.’ So each session, with each cinema in use, has 200 seats available.
Assuming that each day has four sessions in each cinema, the calculations indicate that about 60 people turn up for every twin session.
So the figure of 80,000 comes down to an average of about a 33% occupancy.

The projected figure of 39,000 seems to be very modest; or perhaps just prudent? This is about a16% occupancy when taken over ten months; less for the year. Was it really planned to have less than an average of six people in the smaller cinema and 26 in the larger one? All of these folk could have fitted into the smaller cinema! It seems a supreme luxury to have a choice; but why should Shetlanders be denied the option that is available in most other places if it can be afforded? Shetland has the oil money – well, it had it.

To be fair, the Mareel is not open every day. I recall one cold, windy and wet public holiday when it seemed that watching a movie might be just the thing to do, only to discover that the Mareel was closed. ‘Why?’ is another question to be pondered. So revising the calculations for, say, a five-day week average, the total daily attendance becomes 400 people. This equates to an average of 100 persons per twin session, assuming that there are four sessions a day. With the two cinemas both working, offering 200 seats per session, this is a 50% occupancy. It certainly is an impressive figure. Shetlanders must be true movie buffs!

The strange thing is that for the times that I have been in the vicinity of the new arts centre, I have never seen any great number of vehicles parked nearby. Maybe many local folk walk to the Mareel; or do they visit as groups delivered by buses that park elsewhere?

Figures can be mesmerising when flashed about with statistical analogies of various scales and sizes. One thinks of the comparison of the flea jump when converted into a cow jump of equivalent ability. When considered differently with the calculation that every one Shetlander visits the movies once in every three months, it does not sound so immediately startling. This attendance and the average 50% occupancy are figures that many cinemas in the world would be very happy with. One really has to leave it to experience to confirm these statistics, remembering every session that does not achieve the average attendance will require another with many more moviegoers than the mean. What really does happen every day at the Mareel?

One hopes that the circumstance is not such that nothing critical can ever be said about the Mareel. Will the statistics ever be subjected to an objective, independent audit? Enigmatically, everything that gets reported about the Mareel and the events held there are all very favourable; perhaps too much so?

The latent problem is that while the Shetland Council is wanting to close down all public toilets, (reportedly to save seventy thousand pounds a year), and has removed all skips and rubbish collections from the islands to save even more money, Council has put an extra one million pounds into the Mareel in order to save it from serious financial problems of overspending on its construction budget. Apparently the builder was asked to do more work than had been originally contracted for. It would appear to be political dynamite for the Mareel to be anything but a screaming success in every way possible, otherwise the Council may not look to be too wise at all. As an aside, it is interesting to note that the article on the Mareel in the blog
was not published by The New Shetlander, but the item on dialect was: see -

Maybe all the islands' trash should be dumped outside the Mareel to become an artwork just to make a point. Where else might all of the refuse end up? Images of old Shetland with islands filled with rusting rubbish come to mind. Gosh, the Mareel pile might even win the Turner Award! It could become a Guiness world record: a true tourist attraction! The situation is bleak, but it does highlight just why the Mareel must never be seen to fail, or fail to impress. It sets the scene for cynicism on the reported surprising numbers that must be some of the best in the world, all when the carpark at the Mareel stays nearly empty!

I went to the movies in Brisbane the other evening. It was a large cinema complex with nine theatres. The theatre space we were in held six people for the movie showing when it could seat about 400 visitors. When we came out, the large foyer spaces were empty. I am sure that the managers were hoping that every citizen in Brisbane, a city with a population of about 2.2 million people, might go to a movie at least once every three months to provide th theatres with an average 50% occupancy!

Just what is really going on? The poor Council has no money for repairing local halls, maintaining public toilets, or collecting general rubbish, but it has all the money it needs for this great hall at Lerwick that has its own real problems that will, it appears, never ever be mentioned or debated. The great irony is that the Lerwick public toilet is one of the best projects to be built in this town for years. It is a real gem. Meanwhile the Mareel is struggling with its own concerns. These include financial, architectural and planning issues! These, alas, it seems, will never be mentioned.

Unlike the harbourside public toilets, the Mareel has no presence when viewed from everyday Lerwick, in the daily ‘toing and froing’ of ordinary life. It has no civic identity in the old town. One has to detour down a lane to the water’s edge in order to see it other than as an angled portion of roof in gaps between stone walls. One then has to move on further to the edge of the dock in front of the Museum and Archives Building and look back if one wants to see its unique promotional image, its grand illusion mirrored in the water that the interior spaces almost ignore.

Dare one suggest that the cinema figures are a grand illusion too? Have the mass attendances for the one-off performance theatre events been mixed into the cinema attendances to make them look much better than they really might be?

Surely the Council’s attitude couldn’t be: let the islanders look after their own waste, while we spend their money on 'cake,' and Councillors’ salaries too? One might have thought that a commitment to the arts has to be based on a comprehensive concept of respect, care and concern for all aspects of life, including its ‘dirty’ aspects, not just the ‘smarty-arty’ side of things. After all, aren’t life and art supposed to have some nexus that is not simply an either or?

POSTSCRIPT 08 January 2014
The concerns with the inundation of sea water noted in are real, not some extremist 'green' hysteria involving future climate change and rising oceans, as the report in The Shetland Times of 06 January 2014 indicates. With the recent high tides around Shetland, the water was lapping almost to the doors of the new Shetland Museum located on the docks next to the Mareel. One wonders: what might happen with high tides and gales?

The Shetland TimesEstablished 1872. Online since 1996.

High tides around the isles
06/01/2014, by Shetland Times
Friday and Saturday both experienced higher than average high water marks around Shetland.
The boat deck at the Small Boat Harbour in Lerwick was completely submerged with about 20-30cm of water above it at around 1pm on Saturday.
The high tides at Freefield meant the water was lapping almost up to the doors of the Shetland Museum in Lerwick. It also meant the former fishing boat Pilot Us and other vessels in the area were above the jetties where they are berthed.

 The water was lapping almost up to the doors of the Shetland Museum. Photo: Mark Berry

 High tides at Freefield in Lerwick. Photo: Ian Leask

The boat deck at the Small Boat Harbour in Lerwick was completely submerged on Saturday. Photo: John Coutts 

The boat deck at the Small Boat Harbour in Lerwick was completely submerged. Photo: John Coutts

The following report in The Shetland Times of 07 November 2013 confirms the financial problems Shetland Arts has found itself with. It seems that the arts have displaced angling interests too.

Angling association loses hatchery as Kergord is put on the open market
07/11/2013, by Peter Johnson
Shetland Anglers Association is urgently seeking a new hatchery after its lease at Kergord was term­inated and the building allegedly “rendered inoperable”.
According to the angling associ­ation it was never given the option of extending its £1,500 a year lease and extensive reinstatement work would need to be undertaken before the hatchery could be up and running again.
One angler, who did not want to be identified, questioned the legality of “damaging” the hatchery while it was still being leased by the angling club. He claimed that the fish ladder had been filled in, pipework removed from the building and the dam emptied.
“It has been rendered unusable as a hatchery and is no longer viable as a hatchery without major re-invest­ment,” he said. “I doubt the legality of this, but our main concern is that we have been left without a hatchery.”
The anglers association has re­stocked large numbers of sea trout grown in Kergord into areas that have traditionally supported strong populations.
Association secretary Alec Miller said: “We are not happy about this. We were surprised that we were not consulted when the work was undertaken as we were the lease holders at the time.”
The hatchery owner, Shetland Arts, is selling the building and surrounding land to raise capital following an expensive and pro­tracted dispute with construction firm DITT over the building of the Mareel arts centre. It had given the owner of the adjacent land, Brian Anderson, permission to remove sluices from the dam after he complained about flooding on his ground.

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