Hidden Door Festival: Vaults transformed into market

Jill Martin Boualax from Abbey Hill. Picture: Jane Barlow
Jill Martin Boualax from Abbey Hill. Picture: Jane Barlow
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AS he looks around, taking in the hive of activity around him, David Martin cannot quite believe that his idea for an arts festival is finally coming together.

But after nearly a year of hard work and determination, the Vaults, on Market Street, are buzzing with more than 300 people gearing up for the first Hidden Door Festival, which kicks off tomorrow.

The ambitious project, which has seen 24 historic vaults transformed into spaces for the Capital’s creative types, will offer nine days of live music, writer events and poetry readings, visual and performance arts and film screenings.

More than 40 bands and 70 artists were finally able to begin setting up camp in January, 11 months after the city council first approved planning permission.

Throughout 2013, Mr Martin and his team of 200 volunteers spent hours clearing out the unloved spaces and stripping them back to create new canvases.

The founder and director explained how the festival first started in 2010 but that it had taken three years to find the “perfect” venue.

He said: “It started off as a simple, humble thing because I’m an artist and I was looking for somewhere to get my work shown and was looking for a more interesting, fun way to show it, so I had the idea to have an exhibition which involved other creative people doing their thing.

“Obviously it was not supposed to be a festival and we’ve done it before, so it has ended up expanding, but we’ve been looking for an alternative venue and we’ve finally found it.”

Mr Martin said the Vaults fitted the ethos of the festival and would allow the public to explore art rather than just “be confronted by it in a studio”.

“This space allowed us to get a real feeling of the nooks and crannies and that’s where the name Hidden Door came from, because it is something to be discovered,” he said.

“It was a natural evolution to have a disused building so it’s something people feel they are uncovering.

“There’s also supposed to be an element of secrecy about what we do to keep it interesting so these vaults seemed perfect.”

He is also hoping that the event, which is run entirely by volunteers, can steer away from the “safe and pretty predictable” festival format that the Capital is used to.

He said: “We are a bit more unpredictable, exciting and fresh and it gives creative people an opportunity to try something new.

“The Vaults are quite iconic looking, unusual and noticeable, and I think they are spaces that artists get excited about – they love a good space and it has its own character.”

The Vaults, which were created between 1840 and 1914, will soon be taken over by the Caltongate development, with Mr Martin saying he had to accept that the festival would have to find a new venue if it was to continue beyond its inaugural year.

But that hasn’t put off this year’s artists and musicians, who are working hard on the final touches.

Works include an artistic landscape made by 37-year-old Jill Martin Boualax, of Abbeyhill, who used materials found in the vaults to create Spadework, a vision of the city covering the entire back wall of her space.

Others include New Town calligrapher Susie Leiper, 58, who was one of six different artists involved in creating What was, What is, What might be . . . , which was inspired by the history of the Vaults, including an incident in which two young girls were killed.

But artists Rachel McBrinn, 23, and Alison Piper, 26, have taken their vault to a new level by filling it with 3600 litres of water and using it to reflect projected images so that they can create an “ambience” of colour and light.

And it’s not just the insides of the Vaults that have been transformed.

The art group, Blameless, took on the challenge of painting a fiery look stretching over the main vaults and spent five days brushing it on, stroke by stroke.

One of the group’s members, Capital-based Richie Cummings, 33, said it was a really important project and would allow the city to be seen as a “vibrant place and not just an August thing”.

The group was also inspired by the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum and used a print to represent “a choice and the unintended consequences of a choice with a ripple effect that takes over a whole space” while the flames themselves were used to symbolise how “things have to be burnt away before anything new can grow”.

The festival gets under way tomorrow and runs until April 5, with free entry each day until 6pm. Members of the public can buy evening tickets at a cost of £15 during the weekend, and £10 on weekdays.

To get tickets and for more information on the event, visit www.hiddendoorblog.org.

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