Community arts has had a continuing role in the history and development of Wester Hailes. Drawing on local ability and talent, people were encouraged to take active roles in local productions, writing groups, music workshops and filming opportunities. The Wester Hailes Festival Association co-ordinated a diverse programme throughout the year as well as managing the annual Festival week. Although the Association eventually disbanded, other organisations emerged to support local community arts activity.
WHALE Arts Agency has now been operating for 20 years and was originally based in the blue hut on the Murrayburn Greenway. It held an official launch in August 1992 with an outdoor celebration that included a balloon launch as well as live music and street performers. You can see the launch information here, and a report on the day here.
Although WHALE organised a programme of performances for local residents to access, from the beginning it emphasised the value of active participation in the arts. People were encouraged to take part in workshops, to develop new skills and talent, and to take part in decision making about WHALE’s direction and priorities. Through training and courses, local residents were able to move on to further education and learning at Edinburgh’s colleges and universities. And as well as working with adults, WHALE developed a programme for children and young people, giving them the chance to improve their confidence and try out new skills.
In 1998, WHALE secured a grant of £650,000 to create a purpose built arts centre. The new centre featured the first dark room in Edinburgh with disabled access as well as space for a café, crèche and performance area.
The new building was officially opened in November 2000. At the same time, WHALE launched the first NQ Access course in Scotland which aimed to support individuals who were traditionally failed by colleges.
WHALE’s innovative approach has attracted much interest over the years. Recently they were featured in a series of articles written by students in The University of Edinburgh’s 2010/2011 postgraduate programmes, the MSc in the city, and the MSc in Architecture and Urban Design. Kaitlyn Hay looked at WHALE in her study Creativity On The Fringe which was reproduced on the blog last year.