From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes


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Following on last week’s post, here’s the second part of Kaitlyn Hay’s excellent article. This section focuses on the cultural flow, or the lack of it, between the city centre and Wester Hailes during the summer months when the big international festivals are in full swing. And, in that context, it poses the question: what does it mean to be an arts centre like WHALE in a low-income area of Edinburgh?

Edinburgh’s other Fringe?

An established tradition of festival culture and the more illusory qualities of play and spontaneity produce identities and identification with this festival city. Festivals generate regulated and liminal spaces in the city’s cultural calendar and insinuate Edinburgh’s cultural ambience, sociability, and prestige in the global hierarchy of celebrated cultural cities (Jamieson 2004, 65).

By all means Edinburgh proves itself as a creative city year in and year out, yet the community arts organizations that ring the city centre fall beyond the cast of the downtown spotlights. Wester Hailes-Edinburgh partnerships have existed since the early nineties, but the struggle for sustained collaborations and steady funding is constant. Arts Development Officer for Youth programs Kate Griffin, explained that government programs such as Creative Scotland have funds to bestow upon cultural productions and arts groups, and much of its goes to city centre based organizations as they are the ones fueling the tourist economy that is so crucial to Edinburgh (Creative Scotland 2010). WHALE Arts’ role is to draw some of the money away from downtown venues and events to fund its own initiatives — often in conjunction with big Edinburgh groups but clearly targeting the residents of Wester Hailes (Interview with Kate Griffin 2011).

Griffin also commented on the creative culture in Wester Hailes, given its history of economic and social issues; ‘people usually socialize within parts they are familiar with and stick to what they know is on their doorstep.’ There is the perception of suburban versus downtown that is thrown into greater contrast over the summer months, as described by Jamieson (2004, 64): Festival time signals jostling crowds, overspilling bars, and cacophonies of multilingual conversations. The scale and chaotic feel of Edinburgh the Festival City comes alive at the end of July with The Edinburgh International Jazz and Blues Festival followed by The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, The Edinburgh International Book Festival, The Edinburgh International Film Festival, The Edinburgh Tattoo, The Edinburgh International Festival, and The Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival. For six weeks, a thriving street life brings tourists, performers, and residents into proximity where difference in appearance, language, and behavior becomes the norm of city center public life. In contrast, Griffin explains another view: ‘There is a feeling among the residents that city centre productions and events at festival are not for us.’

In a related vein, the 2004 DCMS consultation showed that some saw tourism as playing a key role in cultural provision to suburban and rural areas, while others cautioned that under such initiatives, these destinations could become theme parks. Responses identified two paths of the flow of culture services: city centre based services exported to suburban audiences, and residents of the suburb brought directly to the venues of the city centre. Regarding the first avenue of flow, enticing artists to come to Wester Hailes has been a challenge. A core goal of WHALE Arts is the collaboration between agency, artists and local school children. In 2000, sculptor Robert Coira conducted a series of sculpture workshops with Dumbryden primary school students and curated a display of pieces along the Union Canal (‘Canal Arts’ 2001). The internationally connected Moving Parts Theatre Company was formed in 1985 and operated out of the Clovenstone and Wester Hailes Education Centers until the early nineties. The theatre group works with young people from different backgrounds and after years of exporting performances to the Festival Fringe, moved downtown (Moving Parts Theatre Company 2010). Today, there are several programmes held at WHALE in which artists in residence, such as Edinburgh-bred band Idlewild, hold workshops and classes that culminate in city centre performances or displays.

Arts Development Officer for Adult Programmes Gavin Crichton, speculates on whether or not WHALE could become a festival venue, which would implicate the notion of WHALE Arts as a tourist attraction versus a community arts centre. ‘The real question is what does it mean to be an art centre in a low-income area? WHALE is really at the heart of a debate between big city arts, but it’s not in the big city […]’ Furthermore, Crichton identified an important distinction between arts production and arts consumption (Interview with Gavin Crichton 2011). WHALE Arts has been organizing trips and transportation to city centre venues since its founding. Arty Party, an adult group that meets regularly to attend performances and exhibitions, is WHALE Arts’ longest running programme. With respect to arts production and the exportation of Wester Hailes talent to the city, participation has waxed and waned over the past two decades. In 1993 the WHALE drama group had a venue at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and as reported in the Wester Hailes Sentinel community newspaper, all performances would be affordable to attend at no more than £3 per ticket. ‘Based in the Unemployed Worker’s Centre at 103 Broughton Street, the venue will provide a refreshing alternative to the overpolished and overpriced entertainment available elsewhere at this time of year’ (Whale at the Fringe 1993).


One thought on “CREATIVITY ON THE FRINGE – 2

  1. Back in the 80’s the Unemployed Writers Workshop put on several shows in Wester Hailesduring the Festival Fringe and took shows to the High Street venue owned by the Workers Educational Association in Grindley Court, we also produced a booklet “Wester Hailes Folk’ with a poem ‘The Other Side of Festival City’ which was featured in the Edinburgh Evening News and BBC Radio Scotland. We also brought the writer James Kelman to WHEC to do a reading Adrian Mitchell the poet also visited. 7:84 and Wildcat theater groups were also regular visitors.