Not playing fair

Edinburgh funding - Raising money for the arts is never easy. In Scotland, it's torture. Timothy Cli

It really has been difficult - raising £30m for the arts outside London. We started fundraising for the Playfair Project about 18 months ago, but work on the idea began five years ago. The project involves an ingenious underground link between our two great buildings on Edinburgh's Mound - the National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy - both of which were designed in the 19th century by William Henry Playfair.

The Royal Scottish Academy building was in dire straits. Originally built on pit props that had long since disappeared, it was sinking into soil and utterly broken-backed. Having shored it up with 350,000 litres of concrete, we just carried on and built a vast underground extension. At more than 20,000 square feet, it is larger than the footprint of both buildings.

The project was designed by John Miller & Partners, the architects also responsi-ble for the courtyard extension to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the new Manton entrance to Tate Britain in London. They are very sensitive - a safe pair of hands. Although I am not yet sure whether it will all be finished on time, and I'm rushing around hanging for our Titian show (intended to mark the culmination of the building work), I must say that the whole thing looks very dashing. Heavily rusticated, it faces Waverley Station from The Mound, supporting a plateau on which stand our two great Greek Revival buildings. The underground link is lit by an incredibly smart, shallow pyramid.

To help realise the project, we received around £7.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and a very generous £10m from the Scottish Executive, but we had to raise roughly £12m on our own. And it was hard. Very hard. While London has a population of roughly 11 million, Edinburgh has just 500,000; and while all the big companies, banks and traditional funding centres have their headquarters in London, there are only about five large corporations in Scotland. We therefore not only have far fewer people from whom to beg, but we are far further away from where power resides. All of which means we have to shout much louder to get attention than if we were in Trafal- gar Square. In addition, London-based arts institutions have boards groaning with corporate members. The chairman of our trustees, Brian Ivory, is on the board of Halifax Bank of Scotland, but that's about it.

Another problem is that there is a bit of campanilism in Scotland. Campanilism? No English translation works so well as the original Italian. It refers to how, during the Renaissance, Italian city states such as Siena, San Gimignano and Florence vied with each other to build the most magnificent campanile, or bell tower, and were reluctant to be involved with projects other than their own. Likewise, people at the other end of Scotland felt somewhat reluctant to be involved with our rebuild. I suspect that some of them wanted the money to be spent in, say, Perth. Glasgow is busy spending money on its own arts project, the refurbishment of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which will cost more than ours. Kelvingrove is greatly loved in Glasgow, just as the National Galleries of Scotland is in Edinburgh. The upshot is that our fundraising has been seen very much as an Edinburgh operation, whereas it should have been seen as a Scottish one.

We came down to London many, many times, and took every opportunity to tell people about the project. We had a wooden model of the rebuild, which went to all sorts of dinner parties. We also had a computer-generated mock-up providing a virtual tour around what would be built. We had a stand at various galleries in London - for example, at the Wallace Collection - and some of the visitors appreciated what we were trying to achieve. However, it was very difficult not having a base in London.

It is always hard to raise money. Only 18 months ago, we bought one of the highlights of our new exhibition, Titian's Venus Anadyomene (Venus Rising from the Sea), from the Duke of Sutherland for £20m. Before that, we had to raise more than £10m to stop Botticelli's Madonna and Child, put up for sale by the Earl of Wemyss, from going to the Kimbell Art Museum at Fort Worth, Texas.

We have had to raise a lot of money through our American friends, but we can now offer them entertainment in the range of new spaces created through the Playfair Project. The Link building includes a lecture theatre, shop, restaurant, IT gallery, educational rooms and a lunch room for children, as well as bars, loos and a vast cloakroom.

The new building is enormous, but we found it astonishingly difficult to get the media interested in what we were doing. Now, however, they are beating a path to our door, and over the next few weeks we will have a significant presence in the press.

What next? After all the fundraising has finished here, we hope to raise much more money in the States for yet another project. I can't tell you what it is. All I can say is that we are proposing another building project in Edinburgh. The trustees haven't quite rubber-stamped it yet, so I can't tell you where it will be, or how much we will need. Oh, all right then - £20m.

As told to Rosie Millard

"The Age of Titian: Venetian Renaissance art from Scottish collections" is at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh EH2 (0131 624 6200) until 5 December