Hidden Door festival shows artists are key to reinventing redundant sites - Brian Ferguson

I doubt there were many attendees at Edinburgh’s Hidden Door festival who imagined during the dark days of lockdown they would be reunited with old pals and colleagues in an industrial site in Granton.

Monday, 20th September 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Tuesday, 21st September 2021, 8:33 am

The transformation of a concrete yard normally used for training construction students and a nearby warehouse empty for more than a decade was as surreal as it was inspiring.

Yet it would not have been too much of a surprise for anyone who had previously been to a Hidden Door event.

After all, the festival not only unlocked the doors of the old Leith Theatre after more than 30 years, but showed its true potential as one of Scotland’s best live music venues.

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Esther Swift's project The Call opened this year's Edinburgh Door festival.

It had also turned abandoned vaults on Market Street and a hidden courtyard off the Grassmarket into temporary cultural spaces before they were redeveloped.

But the success of its latest incarnation, which hosted its final shows last night, is arguably its most remarkable, given it was planned against the huge uncertainty of the pandemic, had an out-of-the way location, and was also open to the elements for its live music performances.

A few weeks after performers played to sparsely-attended outdoor venues in Edinburgh, Hidden Door felt a bit more like the real thing many people have been craving.

Perhaps the biggest achievement, though, is a timely reminder that artists and performers should be at the heart of Covid recovery efforts – in Edinburgh and beyond.

Pictish Trail on stage at the opening night of the Hidden Door festival in Granton.

A vast former wave turbine plant in Leith Docks has been home to a major new film studio facility over the past few months, while the Crawford’s Biscuits building in Leith is also enjoying a new lease of life as a creative industries hub and venue.

A brief wander around Hidden Door’s warehouse was enough to see how much potential it will have when it becomes home to Edinburgh Palette, the long-standing operator of studio, exhibition and event spaces.

A separate studio operator will be leading efforts to bring the historic former Granton railway station back to life, close to where the National Galleries of Scotland is pursuing plans for a new facility for its archives, which will be open to the public.

So what now? How many other redundant sites and empty buildings could be brought back to life by cultural activity of some kind?

And could artists and performers help reinvent Princes Street as it struggles with the impact of the new St James Quarter?