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Edinburgh’s High School Yard Steps to be revived by innovative new project

Date uploaded: February 10, 2014

A set of steps in Edinburgh’s historic Old Town, closed off from the public for ten years, are to be repaired and revitalised with a series of improvements, including new gates and an art installation by renowned Edinburgh artist Callum Innes.

The High School Yards Steps were boarded up in 2003 as they had become a focus for anti-social behaviour, and have since become a neglected eyesore. However, the opening of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation in High School Yards last year has highlighted the potential of the steps, as an important route across the Old Town. The increase in student footfall, along with physical improvements and the new art installation will address the problems experienced here in the past.

Significant conservation works to the steps will be undertaken, with the railings renewed and refurbished, and new wrought iron gates being installed to close off the steps at night. Other measures will be taken to improve the setting of the steps, including relocating a police box.

The new installation by Callum Innes will help to regain the steps as public space. As people climb the steps their movement will be captured by an infrared camera and their silhouette projected onto a large LED mesh screen. Innes has also worked with young people from nearby Panmure St Ann’s Centre, and in collaboration with artists Catherine Payton and Tom Nolan, to create short film clips of silhouetted movement, which will play on a loop when no one is using the steps.

Callum Innes commented: “I was initially approached by Malcolm Fraser to develop an installation that would reclaim the steps as a public space, addressing some of the issues that had led to its closure.

By placing an infrared camera half-way up the steps we make a hidden part of the steps visible, relaying live footage of silhouetted figures to be superimposed onto the changing colours of the screen. The installation directly engages both the architecture of the steps and the public for whom they serve.

We approached Panmure St Ann’s Centre to be part of the project as they’re across the road from the steps and we were excited that the students who took part would be able to enjoy watching their creation daily, as well as having the rewarding experience of contributing to a public artwork so rooted in the their immediate surrounding.

We hope that this will form the basis of an ongoing relationship between the school and the artistic community in Edinburgh.”

Some of the funding is being provided by the City of Edinburgh Council from their Neighbourhood Environment Projects budget which offers local groups the opportunity to deliver local projects outwith the Council’s city-wide priorities.

Transport and Environment Convener for City of Edinburgh Council, Councillor Lesley Hinds, said: “This work demonstrates what community-focused funding can achieve and, with the increase in student footfall and physical improvements, will create a much more welcoming and safe environment benefiting local people as well as visitors to this historic part of Edinburgh. The incorporation of artwork with expert conservation will greatly enhance the area for generations to come.”

Adam Wilkinson, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage said: “This fantastic project builds on the experience of other EWH-funded projects at Scotsman Steps and Regent Bridge, where a combination of heritage conservation newly commissioned artworks has transformed neglected public space into places of surprise and delight. At High School Yard Steps we are going one step further, reopening a lost route through the Old Town, and helping lift the quality of life in the area.”

Work is expected to start at the end of February, and will be completed in June. The total cost of the work is estimated at £177,856 and is jointly funded by Edinburgh World Heritage, the City of Edinburgh Council, and the University of Edinburgh