Market Street vaults, Edinburgh

Hidden Door: An outstanding arts festival at the vanguard of gentrification?

The doors closed this weekend on Edinburgh’s Hidden Door festival, the non-profit arts festival that took place in the abandoned storage vaults of Edinburgh’s Market Street, not far from Waverley station. For nine days the vaults were brought to live through art installations, spoken work, short films and live music, featuring some of Scotland’s brightest creative talent. But while the festival programme has received universal acclaim, its role in the regeneration and gentrification of Edinburgh’s historic old town has drawn criticism.

The festival is a non-profit enterprise, partly intended to help ‘develop a model for the arts that can deliver high-quality, ground-breaking events, without depending on government funding‘, and is now in its third incarnation following similar events that took place in 2010. The event proved hugely popular, combining established Edinburgh musical acts such as Meursault and Broken Records with other artists and writers to create an eclectic showcase of Scottish creative talent.

Hidden Door festival

Hidden Door festival

While this years festival has arguably been even more successful than previous events, its location in the Market Street vaults has caused some disquiet due to its attachment to the controversial Caltongate regeneration project. The artists involved in the Hidden Door project invested their own money into developing the space for the festival, and with the festival said to have failed to make a profit many have failed to see any return on this investment. As a result some artists involved in Hidden Door have expressed concern that their work has provided significant advertising for the Caltongate scheme, with the vaults themselves expected to be taken over by ’boutique retail units’ within months.

Architects projection of Market Street Vaults redevelopment

Architects projection of Market Street Vaults redevelopment

The Caltongate project, a £150 million regeneration of the derelict 5-acre Caltongate area of central Edinburgh that will see the construction of a range of new hotels, leisure facilities and residential buildings, was approved in January this year. The Market Street vaults are part of the project, which has attracted significant criticism due to concerns the structures will affect the character of Edinburgh’s Old Town, a world heritage site, and its focus on large-scale commercial hotel and retail projects, already numerous in the city. rather than housing for local residents.

A petition against the plans on campign website 38 degrees attracted over 5,800 signatures, and local MP Sheila Gilmore remarked “The Caltongate site will be built into a bland haven for office workers and tourists staying at budget hotels delivering short-lived bursts of vitality before they all head off home. Old Town residents wanted more housing, to see the community grow and take ownership of any new district.”

Impression of the Caltongate regeneration project

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