Hidden Door festival finally set to put Granton on Edinburgh’s cultural map – Brian Ferguson
It was something of a struggle to find the latest location for Edinburgh’s Hidden Door arts festival.
There was nothing to suggest that the sloping gap site in Granton’s industrial heartland could possibly be lined up to host one of the city’s much-loved cultural events – other than the towering clue looming above it.
I had guessed the entirely wrong site when Hidden Door announced in May that it would be taking place against the backdrop of Granton’s iconic former gasholder, which looms over a public park and Edinburgh College’s headquarters.
Instead, the team of volunteers being assembled by the festival will clear and then transform a gapsite between the gasholder and the shoreline for the five-day festival in September.
Elements that would normally count against the staging of a festival – an untested, open-air outdoor location, outside the city centre – have become key assets for a festival widely credited with the revival of the old Leith Theatre building after an embarrassing hiatus of nearly 30 years.
The discovery of the site and a neighbouring empty warehouse by Hidden Door creative director David Martin and his team will help the festival return in style this September, after a brutal summer which has seen many events wiped out completely and others, particularly in Edinburgh in August, likely to be significantly scaled back from what audiences would normally expect due to uncertainty over what the Covid restrictions might be at the time.
Hidden Door’s arrival in Granton will however also be a crucial moment for long-held aspirations for the regeneration of the city’s waterfront to embrace arts and culture.
It seems a long time ago since the MTV Europe Music Awards were staged on a gap site next to the then recently opened Ocean Terminal shopping centre in Leith. Back in 2003, when stars like Kylie and Beyonce graced the stage of a vast temporary venue at the heart of a tented village, there was much discussion about whether the event would pave the way for Leith to get a permanent cultural venue.
Those dreams have long since turned to dust, partly due to the financial crash in 2008 and the long delays in resuming work on the tram line between the city centre and Leith.
In recent years, Granton has been increasingly touted as having the potential to become a new culture quarter for the city, as part of a wider £1.3 billion regeneration of Granton, which would see a new waterfront park and space for events created.
Work is already underway to transform Granton’s historic former railway station into a base for new “creative workspaces” alongside a new public square for events.
The National Galleries of Scotland is pursuing plans for The Art Works, a public attraction which will also become home to many of the nation’s visual art treasures, while there are also aspirations for the gasholder to host events itself, as well as be turned into a work of art, as it already has been by students in recent months.
Some of those proposals may take years to come to fruition. But when Hidden Door’s ambitious plans transform the two sites on either side of West Shore Road are realised, it is likely to be moment when Granton arrives on the city’s cultural map.