Issue 202
March/April 2018


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Apr 27, 2018
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    Ten years on and Edinburgh Palette faces the knife…

    TEN YEARS ago, the only inhabitants of a grim looking unused and unwanted 1970s Edinburgh office block were pigeons in the rafters. Fast forward a decade and this once desolate building, St Margaret's House on London Road, is now home to a flourishing creative arts community.

    Under the umbrella of registered charity Edinburgh Palette, its austere and somewhat daunting faç ade houses 200 studios, 9,000 square feet of gallery space, and a diverse combination of creative individuals and businesses, crafters and community organisations, as well as events, exhibitions and networking opportunities.


    TEN YEARS ago, the only inhabitants of a grim looking unused and unwanted 1970s Edinburgh office block were pigeons in the rafters. Fast forward a decade and this once desolate building, St Margaret's House on London Road, is now home to a flourishing creative arts community.

    Under the umbrella of registered charity Edinburgh Palette, its austere and somewhat daunting faç ade houses 200 studios, 9,000 square feet of gallery space, and a diverse combination of creative individuals and businesses, crafters and community organisations, as well as events, exhibitions and networking opportunities.

    Its never-ending corridors and rooms also host a community arts space, a photography studio and dark room, a theatre studio, meeting rooms, social hangout areas, rehearsal space and studios offering everything from printmaking to music recording. There are potters, painters, photographers, designers, healers, counsellors – to name just a few.


    A glass making class in progress

    The office block was planned originally as a hotel for the city's Commonwealth Games before becoming home to the Registers of Scotland. They then moved next door, leaving the building empty.

    As a charity, Edinburgh Palette was able to transform this unused building into low-cost studio space, offering designers, artists, small businesses and other voluntary organisations affordable space in which to work. Over the years, it has thrived and is now a hub of bustling activity.

    But tragically, not for much longer, it would seem. This thriving independent arts complex is now at risk after landlords sold its base to developers Drum Property Group for a reputed £ 15m.

    The new owners plan to turn it into affordable housing, student flats and "facilities for the benefit of the local community."

    Planning permission agreed in principle includes a new hotel, offices, student accommodation, apartments and a 225-space car park. While the proposed takeover may create some homes and some business, it will destroy not just a building, but also small businesses, and will leave voluntary organisations without a base to operate. With Edinburgh hosting the world's greatest arts festival, it might be seen as exactly the sort of creative venture the City should be protecting.

    Andrew Chainey, Development Manager, says: "The building is unrecognisable compared to when the project began in 2008. What was essentially obsolete, open plan office space has been transformed into a warren of artist studios, community spaces, sports facilities, and small business hubs.

    "I would never have imagined that the building would one day house a Judo Club, 4000 sq ft of gallery space, the largest yoga studio in Scotland, a design school, a pottery collective and all the social service providers that operate from here. And that's merely a cross section of the building.

    "We always knew the lease on St Margaret's House was temporary and we are now entering a period of transition and uncertainty, but I'm hopeful any new home will offer a more viable long-term solution for our tenants."David Mola, a glass designer, produces and teaches in his studio. "This building has allowed me to run my own business, be part of a community, and to collaborate, swap skills and teach. It's a fantastic way to escape the isolation of the crafter. Links with our colleagues, students and customers are now endangered. I want to think change is good, but some things shouldn't be destroyed."

    'People Know How' is a Scottish charitable organisation helping some of the city's most vulnerable and working with many local communities.

    Founder Glen Liddall says: "I'm remaining optimistic. We're determined to keep our base in the local area, we just need to find a new local home!"

    Basia Mindewicz paints and teaches full-time from her studio and runs 'Edinburgh School of Icon Painting'. "For me the community is a priority, and without Edinburgh Palette's support I'm now more vulnerable as a self employed artist. I know that Edinburgh Palette is doing its best to find a new location for us and most of all to save the community, but I realise it will be difficult to achieve. I can see a general tendency to invest in money-making ventures, not in a community. I feel Edinburgh Council should offer us another solution, a sustainable one."

    Keith Grant, Head of Painting at Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen states: "I was deeply saddened to hear about the fate of Edinburgh Palette. Hosting Gray's 4th year Painting Interim show there over the last eight years has been an invaluable experience for the students. The gallery space is unique in Scotland and the incredible sense of community you feel in the building is special. Losing that is an incredible loss for the cultural life of the city."

    Sophia Lindsay Burns, Community Arts Director is responsible for the Palette's arts community. "Our main target has been to get the local community into St Margaret's House. Our open doors days are hugely popular – people stream in to engage in healthy activities, have a coffee, see an exhibition, be part of a social group for support and care, find presents for their friends and family, and to socialise and network".

    She added: "Most art communities in Edinburgh are disappearing to accommodate student accommodation, affordable housing and shopping centres. The colour and picturesque of local business and art communities is struggling to thrive as they are asked to leave premisses they do not own.

    "I was aware of the Palette's unique position as it managed to run without funding, but the risk factor was the building not being owned by the charity. If art communities were given land, they could run art community programmes and manage spaces, allowing for a sustainable future for the arts and culture".

    And the future? "The path won't be easy, but we can hopefully articulate with those who have already come forward – politicians, art organisations, local councils, a plan that works for the community and for the future of the arts and culture in Scotland. Times are hard on all fronts and space is becoming an expensive asset."

    Your correspondent left feeling not doom and gloom, but rather completely inspired by these energetic, creative and dynamic folk. Qualities they'll need in the uncertain times ahead.

    FRANCES ANDERSON

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