As artistic spaces go, The Lillie Art Gallery is not one of the biggest but it has consistently punched above its weight with many cutting edge exhibitions.
And the gallery – run by a trust on behalf of East Dunbartonshire Council – looks set to continue building on its success with a packed events programme stretching into next year.
James Higgins, team leader at the Milngavie gallery for the past six years, said: “It is a unique space where people can learn, be challenged, or simply have a pleasant experience.
“It is a space where visitors have the opportunity to appreciate exceptional talent, creativity and vision.”
One of the goals James and his small team of dedicated staff have set for the gallery is to attract some of the best up-and-coming young artists as well as making it relevant to people in East Dunbartonshire.
“We feel it is an inspiring community space where one can encounter a wide range of exceptional and thought provoking art – challenging and contemporary; traditional and familiar,” said James.
“Whether it is emerging or established talent, the gallery is a place where our collective cultural identity is displayed and enjoyed by the whole community.
“We are a small team, with Andrea O’Neil as the cultural services assistant and Peter McCormack the museums development officer working together on all aspects of running the gallery.”
Since taking over, James has worked hard to ensure the gallery is more relevant to local people.
He said: “Since we celebrated the 50th anniversary in 2012 we have worked to try and expand the audience and bring in a wider range of artists and types of work.
“These include photographic exhibitions and contemporary artists as well as installation art works.”
One of the major coups for The Lillie Art Gallery was to host the Glasgow International Bust Out exhibition in April 2016.
The bi-annual festival ran for 18 days and showcased emerging artists from Scotland and Iceland, sharing a common thread of punky funky performance installations that were described as playful and fun.
It was the seventh year of the Glasgow International exhibition but the first time the Lillie had been part of it.
“Bust Out attracted an audience that we would not normally have here,” said James.
“They were a very young contemporary audience but it was great for putting us on the map. Many locals came along too.
“I think it was challenging. But that is what a gallery is all about; challenging perceptions of what the art world is.
“In terms of the contemporary art world the exhibition was a big thing for us.”
As well as holding numerous exhibitions throughout the year, the gallery is also home to many works acquired by Robert Lillie (1867-1949) who made it possible for the gallery to be built after bequeathing a legacy in 1962.
Lillie, who worked as a banker, was also a prolific art collector and there are now around 450 works in the collection, including prints, drawings, paintings and a small collection of sculpture and ceramics.
James explained: “His collection is far too big to exhibit all in one go, so we exhibit different works throughout the year.”
Part of the appeal of the gallery is the eclectic mixture of works on show. Since 1962, the founding bequest of artworks has been developed to form a collection of Scottish art dating from the 1880s to the present day.
“This is a very special space in Milngavie and I think the people of East Dunbartonshire should be very proud of the fact that they have this wonderful artistic space,” said James.
A function of the art gallery is also to encourage up-and-coming artists in Milngavie and Bearsden to exhibit and there are also exhibitions by The Glasgow Society of Women artists.
James added: “We have hundreds of members and the support we get from the public is fantastic.
“Milngavie and Bearsden art clubs have exhibits here – our door is always open to the community.
“It is the responsibility of the gallery not to be elitist.”
In January next year the gallery will also hold an exhibition of works from the National Gallery in Edinburgh by Alexander Moffat entitled Poetry, Portraits and Landscapes of Modern Scotland.