An international fundraising appeal launched by Glasgow School of Art after a devastating blaze is being investigated by watchdogs, we can reveal.
The inquiry has been ordered after we revealed how the art school raised at least £20 million after the fire in 2014 despite restoration costs already being covered by insurance.
Instead, the money raised from donors was spent purchasing new buildings and renovating parts of the famous Mackintosh building untouched by fire.
An investigation is now being carried out by the Scottish Fundraising Standards Panel, which adjudicates on complaints about charities.
A senior member of staff at the art school said: “The art school can forever insist that donors were clearly told where the money was going but many, if not the vast majority, clearly thought their donations were helping repair the fire damage.
“In our teaching, by act and by example, we must engender a culture of honesty and integrity.
“It is atrocious that our reputation has been thrown into question by how this appeal for funds was presented and prosecuted in Scotland and around the world.”
After the 2014 fire, which was far less destructive than last year’s blaze, GSA launched a celebrity appeal led by Brad Pitt and Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi for £20 million to restore the iconic building designed by Charles Rennie Macintosh.
Two years later, after millions had been received in donations, a £32 million Mackintosh Campus Appeal was launched, which now included upgrading the unaffected east wing of the building and buying nearby Stow College.
The art school said this new appeal reflected “that what the school needed to recover from the fire had become clearer”.
However, fundraising continued to focus on repairing the fire damage even after the insurance money totalling more than £50 million was received.
A fundraiser at a New York restaurant, where tables of 10 cost £3,500, was held to help “the GSA recover from the almost catastrophic fire in its iconic and beautiful Mackintosh building”.
A Christie’s auction of works by 25 leading artists, including Turner Prize-winning Grayson Perry, raised more than £700,000. It was also intended to “raise funds and publicity for the rebuilding of the school”.
Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead confirmed the investigation last week when he told MSPs: “I recognise that members are also concerned about the use of funds raised through public donations.
“I understand that the Scottish Fundraising Standards Panel is considering that matter at the moment, in light of many reports in the media.”
Holyrood’s culture, tourism, Europe and external affairs committee has been taking evidence about the art school fire and has called for a public inquiry.
MSPs praised The Sunday Post for our reports into the management of the art school, including £1.25 million being spent on converting a building for students before the plan was abandoned, resignations of senior management and an exodus of 70 staff in the past year, some of whom were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements.
In the debate on Wednesday, MSPs said there were a number of questions still to be answered, including whether the fire alarm was on and the level of insurance cover.
Glasgow MSP Pauline McNeill criticised management for being unable to say if a fire alarm was on on the night of the second fire, which had been burning for up to an hour before firefighters arrived on the scene.
She said: “The management of the building did not know whether the fire alarm system was on on the night of the fire, and the fact that no one has been held accountable for that is one of the most damning aspects of the episode.
“For that alone, heads should have rolled at the GSA. That, in itself, should be the subject of a public inquiry.”
Muriel Gray, who has temporarily stood down as art school board chair, insisted last September that the Mackintosh building was “absolutely coming back” and the restoration costs would be covered by insurance.
But the art school has refused to say how much the building is insured for. Some experts believe restoration could cost over £200 million, double the figure quoted last year.
MSP and culture committee member Annabelle Ewing said: “Representatives of the GSA said that they would make the policy public, but subsequently refused to do so.
“Therefore, we have no idea what cover is in place, the conditions that are set forth in the cover, the value of the cover, whether the policy will be paid out in full or at all, and when the policy will be paid out.
“That is simply not acceptable – not least because the public purse paid the insurance premiums.”
What the art school says
“It should be noted that neither the GSA or the GSA Development Trust has received a complaint from donors regarding the fundraising undertaken in response to the Mackintosh building fire.
“Because GSA’s immediate needs changed after the 2018 fire a small number of charitable trusts asked the GSA Development Trust to return their donation so they could use it to fund other projects and until the GSA is in a position to submit a new proposal based on future needs.”
On the fire alarm
“It is unhelpful for anyone to speculate prior to the conclusion of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Report.
“At the time of the 2018 fire the Mackintosh Building was under full operational control of Kier Construction (Scotland) Ltd.
“Any questions relating to day-to-day operation of the site, including the fire alarm, can only be answered by Kier.”
“As this is an active claim, and is still under investigation by SFRS, it is standard protocol that no documents can be publicly released.
“Insurers expect all insured parties to abide by this protocol.”