Opening of the multi-million pound base will breathe new life into an abandoned piece of the city's industrial heritage
Fifty years after it closed its doors as a world centre for the making of wellington boots, a remarkable building in Edinburgh's Fountainbridge will reopen this spring as a major new arts hub. Seven years and £11 million in the making, Edinburgh Printmakers' new home at Castle Mills on Dundee Street will open on 27 April as a world-class centre for printmaking and a new cultural hub in an area currently undergoing regeneration.
Edinburgh Printmakers is the oldest open-access print studio in Britain and will more than double the size of its facilities in the move, becoming one of the largest artist printmaking workshops in Europe.
'We're set to be a new creative hub in the city with studios, a shop, a cafe and gallery spaces,' says chief executive Shân Edwards. 'We've saved a vital piece of the city's heritage and given it a new lease of life.
'Our printmaking facilities are two-thirds larger, so we have more equipment and will be able to welcome many more people. Because we have a dedicated learning studio with its own printmaking equipment, all kinds of community groups and education groups will be able to access our facilities and expertise.'
Castle Mills was built in 1870 by the North British Rubber Company, which was established in Edinburgh in 1856 by two American bootmakers. In the first half of the 20th century, the company employed between 4000 and 5000 people, most of them in the factory adjoining Castle Mills which was the largest industrial unit in the city.
During WWI, the factory worked 24 hours a day making millions of boots for the men in the trenches. In the 1950s, the company launched the Hunter range of wellingtons, which went on to became high-fashion items after being worn by the likes of Princess Diana and Kate Moss.
A disastrous fire in 1969 ended most production on the site which was then taken over by Scottish and Newcastle Breweries. They used Castle Mills as a store and accounts office until the brewery closed in 2004. Now, it has been rescued from dereliction in a sensitive restoration by architects Page\Park, retaining many of the original features.
The first artist to work in the building is German printmaker Thomas Kilpper, a specialist in site-specific interventions, which draw on hidden histories (previously buildings where he has worked include the former Stasi HQ in Berlin). In the opening exhibition in the building's main gallery, The Politics of Heritage vs the Heritage of Politics, Kilpper will show series of prints taken from a giant linocut cut into the gallery's floor.
Edwards says: 'Because the gallery is much larger than our previous space, people will be able to see innovative work in print or referencing print that makes use of that scale. It's taking printmaking to a new level, showing the possibilities of print. Thomas is known for critical social and political interventions, so the timing of this is very interesting as he will be referencing the current political situation.'
Working on site in Castle Mills during the time leading up to the Brexit deadline has been very interesting, according to Kilpper. 'Right now, across the world, decisions are being made by politicians that I think need to be challenged. Decisions on the environment, on coexistence and our way of living together,' he says.
'As an artist, I am dealing with aesthetics in the broadest sense which includes questions around how to address conflicting social issues. Castle Mills, after being abandoned for several decades, shall again be brought to life and become a space for production – this time a place of artistic production based on a diverse range of critical voices at a challenging time in our history.'
His show is part of a programme which announces Edinburgh Printmakers as a major player in the city's contemporary art infrastructure. Edwards adds: 'With the recent opening of Collective at the Observatory on Calton Hill and the Fruitmarket's forthcoming expansion and redevelopment, I think that Edinburgh is finally getting the arts infrastructure it deserves.'
Edinburgh Printmakers, is located in Fountainbridge in a former rubber factory and brewery, over 3 floors. The Printmaking space is on the top floor with large sky lights and a wide range of equipment providing for facilities in etching, lithography…