Campaign launched as Leith arts venue faces demolition under plans for dozens of new apartments

A campaign has been launched to lift the threat of demolition from one of Edinburgh’s leading spaces for new artists.

Developers want to build dozens of modern apartments on the site of an industrial warehouse home to one of the few permanent cultural venues in Leith.

More than 850 objections have been lodged in the space of a few days to try to save Rhubaba, off Leith Walk, which is home to studios for more than 20 local artists and a gallery for exhibitions.

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The charity-run venue, which has hosted live performances and film screenings and has its own community choir, has been used for the Edinburgh Art Festival and LeithLate event over the last decade.

Rhubaba’s board of trustees has mounted a campaign after discovering that plans for 34 apartments have been lodged with the council.

They make no mention of what the Arthur Street venue is currently used for, claiming the building is instead lying empty and that the brick warehouse, which dates back to the 1920s, is of “no heritage significance.”

The Thistle-Peat Property Group insists that the replacement of “utilitarian warehousing” will make a positive contribution to Leith’s regeneration, and enhance the character and appearance of an official conservation area.

A document lodged as part of its planning application states that the council has been “generally supportive of the initial proposals, accepting the principle of residential use” for the site.

Rhubaba has been based at the warehouse on Arthur Street in Leith since 2010.

However an open letter posted on social media Rhubaba states: “This is a space for gathering, for making and for learning which has a history of demonstrating positive impact on the local area.

“If the proposal is carried out, it will mean the loss of a significant community amenity and charitable organisation in Leith.

"The studio, work, rehearsal, and exhibition spaces of Rhubaba will be lost, at a time when they are increasingly scarce in Edinburgh, as a result of excessive property development in the city and reflects the negative impacts of such development.

“In light of the financial implications of the pandemic on artists and freelancers, affordable and flexible working spaces are needed now more than ever. They’re woefully lacking.”

More than 20 artists are based in Rhubaba in Leith.

Timothea Armour, one of Rhubaba’s artists, said: “It's difficult to find studio space as an artist that's affordable.

“It's even more difficult to find a space where a sense of community can exist that's about making space for art that has nothing to do with commerce.

“The programme the current committee are working on is the most exciting, diverse, ethical and community minded of any organisation in Edinburgh."

Another artist, Jen Cuthill, added: “Rhubaba is such an important space for community, motivation and support.

"Without it, Edinburgh would lose one of its only affordable studios, which would be heartbreaking for anyone who lives in the city as an artist.”

Morvern Cunningham, founder of LeithLate, said: “Rhubaba is one of a handful of artist-run spaces in Edinburgh.

“It makes a vital contribution to the cultural eco-system of the city by actively supporting emerging and early career artists by providing affordable studio space and exhibition opportunities.

"Edinburgh has been experiencing an ongoing dearth of spaces for grassroots arts activity for a number of years now - let's not lose this creative hub to property developers intent on the demolition of Leith's industrial heritage and cultural present.”

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