Edinburgh Art Festival takes you on a tour of the city's hidden gems

By Dan James, Festivals Edinburgh Blogger in Residence, August 2018

Dan headshot 300x300On my first visit to Edinburgh's Festivals, I criminally didn't even realise there was an Art Festival running throughout the city during August. What with all the street performers and never-ending shows being touted on the Royal Mile it's easy to get caught up in a long list of things to see.

But stepping off the Royal Mile this year to a peaceful and secluded church where classical music haunted the interior I was glad to have discovered Edinburgh Art Festival and its interesting programme which make you reconsider what art is.

Countless different forms make up the definition of art, and the lines can sometimes seem blurred across the five festivals in Edinburgh during August, but like the diverse programme on offer at the Art Festival, the venues are equally as intriguing. I've spent the last week discovering some of Edinburgh's hidden gems that play host to Edinburgh Art Festival so here is a handy list of places to start. 

Plus: Watch Dan's Art Festival video here


Classical music in a re-constructed church 

Just moments from the Royal Mile is Trinity Apse, a church that initially sat where Waverley Station now lives and which was carted stone by stone up Calton Hill to be rebuilt. As more and more stones were stolen, the church couldn't be rebuilt as before, and it's now in a new form here. Look closely, and you can see the numbered stones in a mismatched order as the original plans went out the window.

Inside the surprisingly impressive acoustics play home to the work of Ross Birrell & David Harding whose Triptych, a powerful recital of Henryk Gorecki’s 1976 Symphony No. 3: Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, plays across three screens and takes over the space.  The Syrian Expat Philharmonic Orchestra feature in the performance alongside the Syrian soprano Rasha Rizk and the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is a moving piece that will have you hooked to the very end. 


Mud ovens and magic in a hidden nature reserve

Just in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle is Johnston Terrace Wildlife Garden, the smallest wildlife reserve in Scotland and by small I mean tiny. Like many of the other festival venues, this gem is not usually open to the public meaning August is a great time to discover new parts of the city. 


Bobby Niven who built the Palm House in the garden is hosting Mud Oven Afternoons on Fridays during August where you can create your own art on a pizza and watch it cook in the flames. In addition, Ruth Ewan's art project alongside Ian Saville brings Sympathetic Magick to the garden, a collection of magic performances that convey a political and social discussion to the stage alongside the tricks. Sympathetic Magick can also be found throughout the city during August. 


Awash with words in an old Fire Station

At Edinburgh Art College the old converted fire station is now an impressive space for artwork and this year it plays home to Shilpa Gupta's piece, For, in your tongue, I cannot hide. Drawing from poets' words and using a multi-channel sound installation the words wash over you in a dark room and it's undoubtedly art that will make you think.


Sculptures and sounds at Jupiter Artland 

A little outside of the city is Jupiter Artland, an ample green space which plays home to plenty of sculptures throughout the grounds. Being a private home some of the property is not always open, but thanks to special events at the festival such as Art Late, new works and later access is possible.


At the end of the evening, we were treated to some Edinburgh Gin and a musical performance in the festival's tent, again showing that the curated collection of art at this festival spans many mediums. Edinburgh Art Festival is also supplying a free bus transfer to Jupiter Artland on specific dates throughout the month.

New venues off the water-ways of Leith 

Another stroll or bus from the city down Leith walk will take you to Leith, a previously separate town that is now joined with the city and the festival.

DOK EdArtFestival

In the DOK studios alongside the Royal Yacht Britannia, you can see works from three local artists while on Maritime Lane, past a street-art courtyard you can see the work of Adam Linklater and Andy Cumming


Art from the archives at the University Gallery

Talbot Rice Gallery is part of Edinburgh University, and the architecture of the University in the square is reason enough to venture here. Inside the gallery space, the domed ceilings and towering pillars are also a surprisingly quiet but impressive space. 

Ed art festival at university

The current exhibition which extends until October is Lucy Skaer's The Green Man. The exhibition plays host to some of Lucy's favourite work such as Sticks and Stones, a collection of different materials depicting her original work and which sit perfectly in the main hall alongside other guest artists she has invited to share the space with. Skaer also looked through the extensive collections of the University of Edinburgh and has selected works from these to exhibit alongside the new commissions. 


Fabrics in a converted Victorian swimming bath 

Dovecot Gallery calls a converted Victorian swimming bath its home, and from the top balcony you can appreciate what the space once was, not least because of the original signs and turnstile door that are on display.

Home to a working fabric factory, Dovecot is an ideal spot for the Liberty Art Fabrics & Fashion exhibition of of Libery's fashion designs from the past 140 years.


Buses and gin at the Modern Art Gallery

A walk along the dreamy Dean Village waterway with its colourful historic houses will bring you to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art which is split across two sites. I attended as part of the Art Late event which included exclusive readings as well as the unique travelling gallery (a converted bus) which has been at various points in the city during the last few weeks.

Needless to say, Edinburgh is full of hidden gems and slightly off-the-beaten-path places to explore, and Edinburgh Art Festival is a great way to tour the city while enjoying a wide range of great cultural expression!

Check out Dan's Edinburgh Adventures during August 2018, and follow along using #DansFestivalCity on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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