You won’t find many people arguing against the fact that Edinburgh should have its own arts quarter, but up until now very little has been done about it.
Just over a year ago, Argyle House in Lady Lawson Street and the land behind it was reportedly identified as one possible location, but talk then concentrated more on the issues of demolishing the building rather than what might be in its place.
Since then, there has been nothing except the city council’s vow a few months ago to help music industry-related businesses stay located in the city centre. Meanwhile, cities throughout the UK have been working hard on plans similar to Manchester’s “Northern Quarter”. Liverpool has just announced expansion for its Bluecoat arts hub, Birmingham has its Custard Factory and Nottingham has joined the fray attracting Rough Trade to open in its Creative Quarter. England’s major cities have also recently all agreed to start working together, not only on these areas but in keeping interesting retail alive in general.
After the city council’s announcement about helping the music industry, I kept an even closer eye on what has been happening in Edinburgh, so when I was told that council land originally earmarked as part of the Edinburgh arts quarter had just gone up for sale, it seemed worth further investigation. A 1.2-acre site on King’s Stables Road, it stretches all the way from the tunnel famous for its saxophone player to the entrance to the Grassmarket.
A large storage shed could easily be imagined as a venue, with shops and cafes complementing something else Edinburgh needs but does not have – a fantastic indoor market, still leaving space for artist studios. With most arts hubs being created on the periphery of city centres at best, Edinburgh has the chance to create something very special indeed in the heart of the city, close to so many other arts-related buildings – from the Usher Hall to the Filmhouse and, of course, the art college itself.
Something else that was pointed out to me very quickly was that the arts quarter would also be great for footfall in the city, meaning people would walk the length of the Grassmarket to reach it from Victoria Street and encouraging those in the west end of Princes Street to approach from Lothian Road. With a little bit of signage, the long daunting walk up King’s Stables Road to the Grassmarket would be halved and bring new life to the area.
Word spread like wildfire and within 48 hours I’d been contacted by a range of interested parties all pledging support for the idea. There are so many wider benefits that extend beyond the arts and even tourism that there would be a huge positive effect immediately. There is no doubt the project would give an air of credibility to the wider area being considered one of Europe’s finest arts quarters attracting new visitors to Edinburgh from all over the world.
• Kevin Buckle is owner of Avalanche Records, one of the UK’s leading independent music sellers. For more details or to get involved in the Edinburgh arts quarter campaign, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org