High School Yards Steps to be art installation

High School Yards Steps will reopen to the public after the artistic makeover. Picture: Jane Barlow

High School Yards Steps will reopen to the public after the artistic makeover. Picture: Jane Barlow

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An “eyesore” which was boarded up after becoming an antisocial behaviour hot spot is to be revitalised and turned into an interactive public art installation.

The High School Yards Steps in the Old Town were closed to the public in 2003 after complaints they were a magnet for “aggressive” drink and drug addicts.

But the opening of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation last year in the High School Yards has brought the steps – which could serve as a handy route to the centre – back to the attention of planners.

Work due to start at the end of this month will see the historic steps, built towards the end of the 19th century as part of a new housing scheme to replace slum dwellings in the Old Town, reopened by June – with some significant updates.

As well as new gates which can close the stairs off at night and the relocation of a police box to ease access during the day, the steps will also be fitted with an infrared camera as part of an artistic installation by Edinburgh resident and Turner Prize nominee Callum Innes.

The camera will capture the silhouettes of people using the stairs and project them on to a large mesh LED screen, which will also play images pre-recorded by pupils from nearby Panmure St Ann’s Centre when the steps are empty.

Mr Innes said: “I was initially approached to develop an installation that would reclaim the steps as a public space, addressing some of the issues that had led to its closure.

“By placing an infrared camera halfway up we make a hidden part of the steps visible, relaying live footage of silhouetted figures to be superimposed on to the changing colours of the screen. The installation directly engages both the architecture of the steps and the public for whom they serve.

“We approached Panmure St Ann’s Centre as they’re across the road from the steps and we were excited that the students who took part would be able to enjoy watching their creation daily, as well as having the rewarding experience of contributing to a public artwork.”

The £177,856 cost is being jointly funded by Edinburgh World Heritage, the city council and Edinburgh University.

Transport and environment convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “With the increase in student footfall and physical improvements, this work will create a much more welcoming and safe environment benefiting local people as well as visitors to this historic part of Edinburgh.

“The artwork and expert conservation will greatly enhance the area.”