Summerhall is an amazing arts centre in the heart of the capital. It's a relatively new space, previously being used as the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies from 1916-2011. When the Vet School found a new home in Easterbush, the McDowell family acquired the premises and began this thriving arts hub. With an interesting history, Summerhall is a quirky venue, bringing together old horse stables, newer 1970s architecture, old teaching spaces, and rooms that are named the likes of the Dissection Room and Anatomy Lecture Theatre.
As Edinburgh's newest and biggest arts venue, Summerhall is home to many and varied events, as well as many of Edinburgh's wonderful Festivals. Having recently held events as part of Edinburgh's International Science Festival, upcoming festivals in the pipeline include 'Festivale4,' an evening of beer, spirits, and street food, 'Edinburgh International Magic Festival' an annual magic festival know to attract around 12,000 visitors, not to mention the summer time when Summerhall is utilised as a Fringe Festival venue showcasing the weird and wonderful. Check out more about what's on by clicking here.
As well as housing ever changing temporary events, Summerhall is a permanent home to artists, designers, makers and creators all year round. This place is a real hub of creativity, and there's a great sense of community between the residents. We were pleasantly surprised at the number and range of workers that reside in the depths of Summerhall. From jewellers, to a brewery, a distillery, to guys that make ice, there's a real variety. You can also find exhibitions, gallery spaces, libraries, small museums, studios, and workshops, there's really so much to see and with such variation, something for everyone. The ethos at Summerhall is that 'everyone is an artist', and that couldn't be closer to the truth. All the artists, makers, creatives, and scientists occupy their own small spaces, but seem to support each other in a wonderful village like culture. It's such a pleasure to wander round and see everyone at work in their specialist craft. I often thought Summerhall was just a venue, but it's open every day to the public, so get exploring!
We took a tour of Summerhall's brewery, Barney's Beer. Barney himself has worked in brewing since the age of 16, so knows his stuff. Barney's was established in 2010, and found its home in Summerhall in 2012. Interestingly, before acting as a Veterinary School, a brewery was founded on the premises in 1705 and ran for over 200 years, so Barney's is certainly bringing Summerhall's heritage to life. It was utterly fascinating to see and learn more about the brewing process, and even for a novice, the process and equipment were explained really well, so it was an accessible tour. Impressively the whole process (apart from bottling) is done on site in the old horses stables, a really compact space, by Barney himself and 3 other staff members. A truly craft process. We tried a flight of three different beers: the Red Rye, Volcano IPA, and Vital Juices Session IPA, all delicious. Barney's does a whole range of different beers, find a full list here.
What's more is that there's a great bar on site, The Royal Dick. Previously used as a Small Animal Hospital, it has been transformed into a lovely space, and true to form is decorated with authentic Vet School fittings and quirky art. Supplying a selection of Barney's beer, as well as Williams (also brewed in Scotland,) delicious food, and Pickerings gin straight from the on-site distillery.
Pickering hold regular tours, perfect for gin lovers. The gin distillery was amazing, and it was so interesting to find out more about the distilling process in the first gin distillery to come to Edinburgh for over 150 years! Modelled on an original Bombay recipe, Pickerings comes in 3 different bottlings, all delicious. It is, again, a true craft process, all done on-site in the compact quarters of the old Animal Hospital. Tours must be booked in advance, which you can do here.
Another really interesting strand of art practiced at Summerhall is done by the Jewellers. We watched two of Summerhall's resident jewellers at work, although there are five permanent jewellers that use the space. There are two studios, Au Lab where the professional jewellers are busy at work, and another which acts as a teaching studio. The two artists were working away blowing glass and casting silver, both amazing processes to see, and wonderful to get an insight into the time and care that goes behind creating intricate jewellery. There are regular workshops teaching making weddings rings, or making jewellery for fun, check out the details here.
As you can tell, the work that goes on at Summerhall is extremely varied. A company we particularly enjoyed was the Edinburgh Ice Company, Scotland's one and only artisan ice company. Their process involves using triple filtered Scottish water to create clear, top quality ice. We saw a mighty 140kg block of ice being carved down into tiny cubes.
Summerhall also hosts a variety of free visual art exhibitions, open to the public Tuesday-Sunday between 11.00-18.00pm (closed on Mondays.) In terms of changing exhibitions, you can expect to browse the likes of 'Contemporary Connections' a celebration of the work of artists and scientists, and 'Brilliant Geometry: The Art of Mathematical Projection Through The Magic of 3D Printing.' Be sure to check the website to keep up to date with changing exhibitions. In terms of permanent exhibitions, check out 'Pain Thing' by Polish artist Robert Kuśmirowski, an installation in the former stables depicting an animal experiment gone wrong and the bringing to life of a robot, feminist work in the form of 'A Lady's Not Gents' curated by Julian Spading and Glyn Thompson, works by Britain's first official war artist in the Muirhead Bone Collection, and a multi-screen video installation, 'IF DESTROYED STILL TRUE,' plus much more.
Visiting Summerhall is a true multi-arts experience and a chance to see real artists, makers, creators, designers, and scientists at work. As well as looking out for upcoming events, it's well worth a visit any day of the year. You can happily spend a few hours here.