It’s one of the transforming powers of art that it can help change the way we see familiar things, not least the places where we live. Joyce MacMillan
Leith is home to many artists. This week the Wall of Success celebrates the remarkable achievements of two creative pioneers. In different ways their work transforms the place that helps to inspire them – while LeithLate brings art into streets and cafes, Active Inquiry turns real life into activist theatre.
Both, to quote arts commentator Joyce MacMillan writing in the Scotsman, offer a chance to see familiar things with fresh eyes. With Leith recently listed as one of the UK’s top ‘hipster hangouts’ some might say Leith has already been transformed. Some parts have changed visibly and quite dramatically in the 20 years between Trainspotting 1 and 2.
But there is still plenty of true grit, and many social challenges in the most densely and diversely populated part of Edinburgh. Or, as LeithLate’s Morvern Cunningham dryly observed in a Q&A: “If Leith Walk ever becomes so gentrified and upmarket that there’s no room for an event like this, then I guess we’ll just move on. I don’t see that happening, though – not anytime soon!”
After all, the Shutter Project which brings public art and colour to the shop fronts of Leith Walk began as a way of brightening the protective shuttering covering many local businesses at the end of the working day.
Transformation through collaboration
But LeithLate also taps into a warm, welcoming and adventurous community spirit. The one night pop-up festival launched in 2011 has become a four day annual event in June, turning shops, offices and cafes into galleries, cinemas, and performance spaces of art, poetry and music. For her work in ‘Putting a cultural spotlight on Leith’, Morvern won the Creative Edinburgh Independent Award 2016
Transformation through collaboration is Active Inquiry’s way of working too. Under artistic director Gavin Crichton, the Leith-based enterprise uses Forum Theatre to engage with local people. This builds on the work of Brazilian Augusto Boal whose Theatre of the Oppressed enables the audience to ‘use theatre as a rehearsal for reality’ challenging and changing injustices of the world around us. And if you have ever attended an Active Inquiry play you will know that it’s almost impossible to remain a passive observer.
Active Inquiry* has won a Creative Scotland award for a two year project, SpectAct working with local groups to create unique pieces of theatre exploring issues drawn from the real lives of participants.
ACTive INquiry enables grassroots communities to make and use excellent theatre as a catalyst to uncover and challenge injustice.
As you can see from the Wall of Success stories provided by LeithLate and Active Inquiry, they have much in common – and not least the challenge of securing longterm funding. (To see how the Wall of Success began with the Side by Side Gathering, click HERE)
1: LeithLate16 Festival – 4 days of arts activity across 25 venues on and around Leith Walk in June 2016 that included art installations, site-specific exhibitions, live music and performance, panel talks, mural tours and an arts market.
2: The Mural Project – a public art project brightening up drab and unloved spaces in Leith to produce large-scale outdoor artworks. Our latest mural is by local artist Elph on the side of the Lovella beauty salon on Leith Walk.
3: The Public Poetry Project – in the run-up to LeithLate16, we installed 6 poems about Edinburgh by contemporary Scottish poets onto a series of outdoor advertising sites around Leith, each with bespoke artwork pertaining to the content of the poem on display.
Priorities for future development
1: We would like Leith to have a permanent, accessible, medium sized arts venue that can host a number of multi-arts and local community events.
2: We would like to develop our public art initiatives further, and to work with more local community groups in their development.
3: We would like to develop our public engagement projects at the LeithLate festival and throughout the year.
1: Divided We Fall? A theatre project exploring how diverse communities can build solidarity in the face of divisive rhetoric from above and cuts to public services. Video available HERE
2: Spect-Act. Working in partnership with Bethany Trust, Shakti Women’s Aid and the Alma project we are creating a network of theatre companies across Leith using theatre to explore and dialogue about issues that are affecting them.
3: Leith Moves. Working in partnership with Out of the Blue and Strange Town Young Company we created a piece of theatre for the Leith festival exploring the history of Leith Docks. This is continuing again this year
Priorities for future development
1: Looking at how childcare responsibilities affect women disproportionately
2: Exploring how housing can be made more permanent for addicts in recovery
*Disclaimer, Leith Open Space co-ordinator Fay Young is an Active Inquiry board member
Pictures reproduced with kind permission of LeithLate and ActiveInquiry