Tramway - A History

“An industrial cathedral that connects art with humanity…It’s real, it speaks of the city’s history, it speaks of Glasgow” - Peter Brook

An industrial cathedral that connects art with humanity… Tramway is Scotland’s internationally acclaimed venue for contemporary visual and performing art. This reputation is founded upon our commitment to the presentation of the most innovative work by Scottish and international artists. The very distinctive architecture, character and history of the venue itself have ensured that Tramway is a unique place to produce and experience the best in contemporary art.

Past Life

The building began life in 1893 as the Coplawhill tram shed and, in the early years of the twentieth century, it served as the city’s main tram terminus, depot and factory. Following the demise of the trams in Glasgow in the early 1960s, the building was transformed into the Museum of Transport.

In 1986, the Museum of Transport was relocated from Albert Drive in the south side of the city to Kelvinhall in Glasgow’s west end. Consequently, the vacant building faced demolition until ambitious plans were developed during the late 1980s in preparation for Glasgow’s year as City of Culture 1990.


Tramway was launched as a direct result of the search for a venue that had the capacity to house what would be, in 1988, the only UK performances of Peter Brook’s Mahabharata. The unrivalled scale of the former tram depot, and the flexibility offered by its industrial architecture, meant that the building was uniquely placed to house such a momentous production. In 1989, the acclaimed British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy staged his now internationally renowned project Snowballs in Summer in what would become Tramway’s principal gallery space, Tramway 2.


This early programme was consolidated during 1990 with the return of Peter Brook, the first visit to Glasgow of the Canadian Director Robert Lepage and the development of a major exhibitions programme including a solo show by the British artist David Mach and a group show of work by Italian artists: Temperamenti. Tramway’s full potential as a major international venue was realised during 1990 and, in 1991 The Independent noted that ‘The brightest legacy of Glasgow’s year as City of Culture is surely the survival of Tramway’.

From 1990, Tramway has given equal focus to work by international as well as Scottish based artists. Both the performing and visual arts programmes have commissioned new work and created opportunities for local artists to present their work within an international context. As a result, Tramway plays a central role in the support, development and promotion of work by Scottish based artists, each commission an investment in Scotland’s creative community – pushing the boundaries of innovation and experimentation, and challenging and redefining performance and visual art for the new century.

Many artists have gone on to international acclaim after a Tramway commission. Douglas Gordon went on to win the Turner Prize (the UK’s most prestigious art prize) in 1996 after showing 24 Hour Psycho, commissioned by Tramway in 1993; Christine Borland’s exhibition From Life was shown in 1994, and in 2006, Henry Coombes was selected to represent Scotland at the 2007 Venice Biennale after his exhibition Laddy and the Lady at Tramway in July 2006.

Theatre/performance companies such as Suspect Culture, Theatre Cryptic, Theatre Babel and Boilerhouse all benefited from support through Tramway’s Dark Light Commissions programme during the 1990s, followed by a new and even younger generation of companies and individuals such as Vanishing Point, 12 Stars, Pauline Goldsmith, Pamela Carter, Colette Sadler and Anna Krzystek.

In 1998 Tramway was awarded Scottish Arts Council National Lottery funding to help redevelop the vast building. The venue re-opened in June 2000 with improved and better–equipped theatre and exhibition spaces, café bar and residency, rehearsal and workshop spaces.

Tramway’s artistic programme from 2000 to 2008 maintained and built upon its already enviable reputation. Its policy of risk-taking and innovation coupled with an ethos of bringing the very best international work to Scotland and the UK for the first time, has led to many outstanding experiences for audiences.

During this period its performance programme boasted return visits by Robert LePage, The Wooster Group, and Les Ballets C. de la B, augmented by exciting new international work from Zero Visibility, Victoria Theater, Akram Khan, TG Stan, Needcompany and Wayn Traub. Similarly, Pipilotti Rist, Pierre Huyghe, Philippe Parreno, Salla Tykka, Martin Boyce, Matthew Barney, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Graham Fagen and Rosemary Trockel are only a few of the internationally known artists to show in Tramway’s galleries during this period.

Tramway commissions for Scottish based artists during this period 2000-2008 included Henry VIII's Wives, Graham Fagen, Martin Boyce, Beagles and Ramsay, Maurice Doherty, Janice McNab, Carol Rhodes, David Sherry and Tatham and O’Sullivan.

In 2003 the local environmental arts company NVA opened the award-winning Hidden Gardens on land just behind Tramway. The Hidden Gardens is a sanctuary garden that celebrates the diversity of nature and humanity. It incorporates original artworks and hosts events and workshops – appropriately on the site of the 19th century Coplawhill Nursery.

2006 saw the first fruits of a burgeoning relationship with the then new National Theatre of Scotland, producing their first major work for the stage and continuing in 2007 with their first international collaboration with Victoria Belgium. Tramway is also one of the key venues for Glasgow International Festival of Contemporary Art

2008 - present

A new phase in Tramway’s history began in 2008 when a creative director was appointed for the first time to focus the visual and performance programmes, and explore relationships with audiences. Large scale solo visual arts exhibitions since this time have included work by Sebastian Buerkner, Phil Collins, Cerith Wyn Evans, Lara Favaretto and Subodh Gupta. Performance productions have included work by National Theatre of Scotland, Vanishing Point Theatre Company, Janis Claxton Dance, Michael Clark Co., Yvonne Rainer, Elmgreen & Dragset and Peter Brook returned in 2010 with 11 and 12.

This invigorated programme has also co-produced cross-discipline projects with artists such as Corin Sworn, Pablo Bronstein, Keren Cytter and Raydale Dower. Contemporary music events since 2008 have included Arika’s Instal and Uninstal festivals, off-site performance by Tony Conrad, and performances by Throbbing Gristle and Nurse With Wound.

In 2009, Tramway’s architectural ‘footprint’ was again developed, this time to include new headquarters for Scottish Ballet, in a development of the remaining derelict parts of the building, creating both a physical and artistic partnership, as well as opening up a new street-facing exhibition space in the venue, Tramway 5.

Footprints audience engagement project has charted this developing relationship with new audiences 2009-2011, as well as acting as a catalyst for new programming strands, online communications and marketing developments, through public workshops with key audience groups. Exploring audiences have lead to new family-friendly and youth-focused events, with collaborations with Starcatchers, the development of Tramway Family Days and Fresh Faced youth led evening events.

Tramway has a range of ongoing residents in the building including its own Herald Angel award-winning youth-theatre, Junction 25, for teenagers aged 13-17, driven by the young people themselves; Tramway Young Critics, exploring critical approaches to contemporary art for ages 14-20, and Time for Art, a practical art workshop for over 55’s.

Tramway is currently experiencing some of the highest attendance figures in 5 years. Tramway’s vision moving forward is to continue to support, host and produce ground-breaking contemporary visual and performing art. The focus is on supporting and developing companies, artists and performers, and opening up work to new and existing audiences.