Established as an artist-run gallery in 1984, the Collective is committed to supporting new visual art through a programme of exhibitions, projects and commissions. It shows sculpture, painting, film and photography, nearly all of it self-generated, and collaborates with an average of 12 artists a year, with a particularly high profile at the Edinburgh Art Festival in August and events such as the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In 2014, the gallery moved from its original location on Cockburn Street to the City Observatory on Calton Hill.
One commission that typifies the gallery's expansive approach was Aleksandra Mir’s How Not to Cookbook, an anthology of cooking disasters that was the starting point for an events programme that included pot-luck dinners hosted by academics and comedians with live music played in the background. The gallery was also involved in the 1mile² projects Publik Booth and Bank of Reason, which were part of a wider art programme reaching around the world to locations such as Tehran, Shanghai and Karachi.