Business as usual in Edinburgh

Scottish capital continues to attract investment in its world-class arts and cultural facilities, but without the fanfare. By Caroline Parry
Caroline Parry
While Dundee has been grabbing all the headlines with the opening of its design museum, Scotland's capital continues to attract investment in its world-class cultural, arts and heritage scene.

Edinburgh remains the UK's top tourist destination outside of London and, 12 months ago, it was named as the top city of its size in Europe for culture and creativity by the European Commission's Cultural and Creative Cities Monitor.

Gordon Rintoul, the director of National Museums Scotland (NMS), says: "Over the past decade, the visitor offer in Edinburgh has been transformed. Developments in progress will further cement the city as a leading international cultural hub."

National Galleries Scotland (NGS) has revealed its major development project at the Scottish National Gallery will be completed by 2021. The project, Celebrating Scotland's Art, was delayed last year due to issues with the construction work.

Work is now under way on a suite of galleries, which, according to NGS director-general John Leighton, will offer fascinating connections to the landscape and create a new public space in the centre of Edinburgh. At the same time, the entire gallery will be rehung to show Scottish art in the context of its wider European collection.

Exciting times

"This is an exciting period of renewal for National Galleries Scotland, as we take forward our plans to put our audience at the heart of what we do," says Leighton.

He adds that the group has ambitious plans to build on 2017's record 2.5 million visitors. These include a rebrand to help NGS appeal to a wider audience. The project has been put out to tender, and it is hoped an agency will be appointed before the end of the year.

"The ongoing development of our brand is underpinned by a desire to ensure that the widest possible audience enjoys our art and activities," says Leighton.

At the National Museum of Scotland, a 15-year £80m transformation is nearing completion, with three permanent galleries scheduled to open in the spring. The galleries will focus on ancient Egypt, east Asia and the art of ceramics.

"It is fitting that this ambitious masterplan culminates at a time when a number of significant cultural projects will come to fruition," says Rintoul.

Alongside the redevelopment of these established institutions, newer organisations are bringing some of the city's historic architecture back to life through art. In May, the Ingleby Gallery moved into Glasite Meeting House, while on Calton Hill, contemporary visual arts organisation Collective is redeveloping the City Observatory.

Calton Hill has become a popular tourist destination but its basic facilities have not kept pace, says Eric Hildrew, the head of marketing and communications at Collective.

The redevelopment of the City Observatory, which received a £1.3m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, involves the creation of Collective's first purpose-built gallery space, additional exhibition space in the City Dome, a roof terrace and a restaurant.

"We are bringing our own history and approach to a piece of Edinburgh's heritage," says Hildrew. "We take our role seriously as custodians of the heritage."

He admits it can be hard for contemporary art to find a platform in such a historic city. "The fact that we have found this site for Collective, which supports artists in the early stage of their careers, creates a fascinating overlap between those worlds," says Hildrew. "That is something quite fresh for Edinburgh."

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