Morvern Cunningham – 'I see LeithLate as being part art opening, part pub crawl, part doors open day'
- David Pollock
- 8 June 2017
Exhibitions, interventions, mural tours and a Lost Map Records afterparty at the four-day LeithLate festival
'Leith is a good news story these days – "it's fabulous, it's on the up!" – but there's another side to that,' explains Morvern Cunningham, director of the LeithLate festival, now in its seventh year.
'There's an element of precarity to the area as well,' says Cunningham, 'whether you live here or you're an artist who works here – one of our exhibitions SUNSET STRIP CARROT DANGLE (programmed by Summerhall former arts curator Holly Knox Yeoman) is at the Sikh social enterprise café Punjabi Junction, which is currently under threat of property development.' Featuring Stephanie Mann and an opening performance by David Sherry, the exhibition invites viewers to build their own installation from food and items which will eventually be distributed to Edinburgh North East Food Bank.
Cunningham points out that Leith is on a particular kind of knife-edge at the moment, but this is why it has an energy that's unique. Maritime and working class roots gave way to the poverty of the 1980s and now a rapid influx of, first artists looking for cheap studio space, then the many student residences which have sprung up in the last 18 months, and now more wealthy arrivals. 'I read a thing in the Financial Times recently saying that companies looking for cheap office space all want to move to Leith now,' she says. 'I thought, "is this the future?"'
Maybe, but for now Leith is still climbing the peak of a creative renaissance which hopefully won't crash when all the artists are priced out. The centrepiece of the annual, four-day LeithLate festival is its Thursday night artwalk, with 25 weekend-long exhibitions debuting up and down Leith Walk, from the Leith Walk Police Box to Ltd Inc Corporation's new studio at the Old Ambulance Depot, a community stage on the lively Kirkgate precinct and an intervention by Creative Electric at the local laundrette.
'I see LeithLate as being part art opening, part pub crawl, part doors open day,' says Cunningham, taking a break from meetings in the Out of the Blue Drill Hall, a well-established grassroots Leith art space near her house. 'And a party!' This year she says she's dedicated to living up to the 'Late' part of the festival's title with a Thursday night afterparty hosted by Lost Map Records at Henderson Halls featuring Kid Canaveral and Savage Mansion, FiniTribe DJs at Franklin Cricket Club on Saturday night, and a closing party at Custom Lane on Sunday evening.
That final venue is one of the elements of this year's LeithLate which make it so much more than it has been in the past, with the refurbishment of both the lane and the historic Custom House into artists' studios creating a large new creative space fit for Sunday's all-day party, and Hidden Door festival's assistance in clearing out the old Leith Theatre paving the way for choreographer Luke Pell's Friday night dance performance In the Ink Dark. This conscious combination of the heritage and the future of the area is what helps give LeithLate its character as a festival.
This year, regular tours of the area's murals (some, by artists like Kirsty Whiten and Elph, commissioned by Cunningham herself) will return, joined by a Public Poetry Trail hosted by Edinburgh Makar Christine de Luca and a video installation by recent Glasgow School of Art graduate and LeithLate Award winner Clara Hastrup in the historic Trinity House's unexplored vaults. 'They asked us not to say they're secret, because school trips go there all the time,' laughs Cunningham. 'But in all my years living in Leith, I didn't know about them. Shining a light on the unexplored places around us is all part of the fun.'
LeithLate17, various venues around Leith, Edinburgh, Thu 15–Sun 18 Jun