Artists to launch former shipyard shed on new voyage

Karen Fleming at the DOK Artist Space, which is due to be launched in June. Photograph: Jon Savage

Karen Fleming at the DOK Artist Space, which is due to be launched in June. Photograph: Jon Savage

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It is the last surviving remnant of one of Scotland’s most historic shipyards – but lies hidden from view behind a shopping centre.

Now the semi-derelict shed is set for a new lease of life at the heart of an “artistic hub” in Leith’s docklands.

More than three decades after the demise of the port’s shipbuilding industry, the former first aid station and paint store is being converted into space for studios, exhibitions and events.

It will be part of a proposed “artist village” alongside a number of converted shipping containers which are being donated to the project to help get it off the ground.

Three new female graduates of Edinburgh College of Art have joined forces to pursue the venture after striking a deal with the owners of the adjacent Ocean Terminal shopping complex. Karen Fleming, Daryl McKee and Olivia Turner plan to attract artists from Scotland and overseas to use the shed and containers, which will also be available for community events and educational workshops.

The DOK Artist Space, which will be officially unveiled on 2 June, has already been lined up for events during the Leith Festival and Edinburgh Art Festival this summer.

It will be the latest in a series of developments to boost the profile of the cultural sector in Leith, which is said to have more than 1,140 artists, designers and creatives.

Separate plans are being pursued which would find new cultural uses for Leith’s former customs house and its run-down theatre, which last hosted events in 1989.

The docklands shed and surrounding land have been offered to the three artists by Ocean Terminal as an “incubator space” following the success of other creative ventures at the centre, including exhibition and retail spaces for artists, designers and craft-makers.

Dating back to the Second World War, the two-storey iron and steel structure was constructed using the same techniques as those used for the ships in the yard, including riveted plates.

It was originally built at the request of the Admiralty as a safe store for plans and documents of warships under construction in the yard, and was made to survive German bombing raids, though it was never tested by a direct hit.

The B-listed structure was spared when the shipyard was demolished to make way for the regeneration of the docklands and the building of Ocean Terminal.

The three artists plan to have at least half a dozen containers stacked alongside the shed, which will have studio space for nine artists, along with an outdoor exhibition space and a new sculpture trail in the area.

Fleming said: “We were all looking for studio space when we graduated and decided to try to find premises to open something up ourselves.

“When we came down to Ocean Terminal we were offered the use of their old paint store. When we saw it, even from the outside, we just thought it was amazing.

“We’re just finishing the renovations to the shed at the moment and then we’ll be able to start work to convert the first container. But we’re entirely self-funded so we’re in the process of looking for sponsors and funders to get involved with the project.”

Michelle McLeod, marketing manager at Ocean Terminal, said: “We’re keen to do as much as we can to make Ocean Terminal a place for arts and culture. We’ve been trying to create spaces to incubate and harness new and emerging talent who might not be able to get a foot in the door elsewhere.”

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