Bondi Beach sculptures set to liven up Leith's waterfront

It is one of Australia's most popular outdoor events, drawing more than half a million visitors to Sydney's famous waterfront.

Sunday, 19th June 2016, 12:36 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 8:47 pm
A woman walks next to an artwork by Harrie Fasher titled 'Which way forward?' at Sydney's Sculpture by the Sea exhibition. Picture: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

Two decades after it was first staged, the Sculpture by the Sea event is set to be transported from the sunshine and surf of Bondi Beach to the post-industrial landscape of the Port of Leith.

Derelict sites, alleys, bars, restaurants, rivers and docklands areas would be transformed each year by the arrival of dozens of specially-commissioned works of art.

Leading artists and designers, as well as some of the nation’s rising stars, would be showcased in what would be only the second Sculpture by the Sea event to be staged outside Australia.

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The plans have emerged just weeks after Edinburgh City Council published a new strategy aimed at ensuring the Scottish capital remains an “international destination” for events.

A key target is securing or hosting at least one major event of national or international standing which is new to Edinburgh.

The venture is being pursued by a new charitable trust which has already brought the arts impresario behind the hugely successful original event to Leith to scope out suitable sites.

A study prepared by David Handley – who attracted 25,000 people to his first event and saw it grow to become the world’s largest annual sculpture exhibition – suggests a show in Leith could be inspired by “Scotland’s connections to the world”.

His report states that it could a similar transformative effect to the Angel of the North statue in Gateshead and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Mr Handley has also pointed out that the staging of a Sculpture by the Sea event in Aarhus, in Denmark, since 2009 was one of the main reasons for it being named European Capital of Culture in 2017.

A launch event for a bid to bring the event to Leith will be staged next month – with the aim of the first Sculpture in the Sea being staged in 2018. 
Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, which is based in nearby Newhaven, Edinburgh College of Art and dock operator Forth Ports have already been involved in initial talks.

The Port of Leith was Scotland’s main trading port for centuries and boasted a proud shipbuilding industry until it went into decline after the Second World War.

A long-term overhaul of its waterfront began in the mid-1980s, with key attractions such as the Royal Yacht Britannia and the Ocean Terminal complex established in the area. However, its revival has stalled in recent years, since a planned tram link with the city centre and Edinburgh Airport was put on hold, with the waterfront scarred by ugly gap-sites and unfinished developments.

Mr Handley said: “Leith has considerable potential for a major public sculpture exhibition featuring local, UK and international artists that will attract visitors from far and wide.

“Sculpture as an art form transforms space, the perception of space and engages the public by colour, form, scale and at times humour.

“In many ways sculpture is one of the key art forms of now, partly because it was so hidden for so long. Cities which catch the sculpture wave now are at the front of the curve.”

Sir Andrew Cubie, chair of the Leith Trust, which is hosting this month’s launch event, said: “Such an event in Leith would raise its profile as a creative hub, attract tourists, create employment opportunities, provide its already successful creative businesses and hubs and great opportunities and foster a sense of community.”

Leith councillor Gordon Munro said: “This would be a real draw for Leith, but it would need to have some kind of lasting legacy, so that the sculptures are not here today and gone tomorrow. Leith loves art so let art return the love, via sculpture.”