Royal High School to host Edinburgh festival shows

The former Royal High School has been nearly unused for the best part of 50 years. Picture: TSPL
The former Royal High School has been nearly unused for the best part of 50 years. Picture: TSPL
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A LANDMARK building once touted as the home of the Scottish Parliament is to be reopened for this year’s Edinburgh festivals season.

Two Indian artists, Amar Kanwar and Shilpa Gupta, will be staging work both inside and outside the former Royal High School on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill in August.

The move will give members of the public a rare chance to see inside the building, which has lain largely unused for more than 45 years, ahead of its planned redevelopment into a major hotel complex.

The Edinburgh Art Festival has won permission from the city council, which owns the iconic building, to use the historic debating chamber, which was refurbished in the run-up to the 1979 devolution referendum - for the parliament that never was when nationalists failed to win enough support for their cause.

The building also hosted several major meetings in the 1980s and 1990s when campaigners were building a case for Scotland to have its own parliament again, as well an opera production during the 1998 Fringe.

However after the 1997 referendum, the building was controversially ruled out as a home for the parliament in favour of a brand new building opposite Holyrood Palace.

The school was built on a site overlooking the Old Town on Regent Road between 1826 and 1929, with its neo-classical Greek Doric designs created by architect Thomas Hamilton. It is one of several buildings on Calton Hill which earned Edinburgh its affectionate tag as “the Athens of the North”.

The city council agreed more than four years ago to allow a developer, Duddingston House Properties, to pursue plans for a luxury “arts hotel” on the site, although the £35 million scheme has thus fair failed to get off the ground.

However the council says it recently agreed a deal with the form to formally “dispose” of the A-listed building, which was last used as a school in 1968, although the authority will retain ownership under a long-lease agreement.

Kanwar and Gupta will be using the Calton Hill landmark this summer as part of a major art festival project staged to celebrate Scotland’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games.

Exploring different meanings from the words “common and wealth”, it will see more than 20 artists drawn from around the Commonwealth staging work across four floors of the City Art Centre gallery.

Kanwar, from Delhi, will be displaying a major work exploring illegal mining in the eastern Indian state of Orissa and its impact on local resources and livelihoods, while Gupta, from Bombay, will be responsible for a large-scale text installation outside the building.

A statement from the art festival said: “The debating chamber remains strongly associated with Scotland’s recent political history, and in the year of a referendum on its political future, provides a resonant context for a series of artist projects which deal with identity, community and representation.”

Other venues being used by art festival this year include a bakery and a former police box on Easter Road, a 15th century gothic church building off the Royal Mile, and a Victorian glasshouse at Lauriston Castle, a 16th century townhouse near Cramond.

The Edinburgh Art Festival runs from 31 July-31 August. Full details of all shows and exhibitions are available at