Edinburgh has lots of pretty buildings, that’s a given. But away from Old Town’s showstopper of a skyline, there are streets upon streets of tenements, and occasionally, rows upon rows of colonies. For a girl like me, they’ve always seemed far from reach – quaint, quirky – expensive. But thankfully, they appear to be full of creative types who are more than happy to invite you inside.
Abbeyhill, 17th September 2016. It was the eleventh annual Colony of Artists and the sun was shining. Bunting criss-crossed Maryfield, Alva, Lady Menzies and beyond, decorating the buzzing colonies of my favourite Edinburgh neighbourhoods. On some garden gates large painted numbers hung invitingly – I could go inside these houses.
The two-day festival featured over 50 artists, a live music venue and a specially brewed beer. I sampled everything. The artists were spectacular, and their homes all so different! Highlights for me were Richard Butler, Alan Ramsay and an artist whose card I sadly lost. She did amazing work with lichen.
I bought two bottles of Colony Beer for a friend and I later that sunny afternoon. The special edition was brewed by Campervan Brewery, and I picked it up on Easter Road.
I think the thing I love most about Colony of Artists is the story behind it. In 1861, some builders were locked out of their building site because of an argument over working hours. This idleness gave them some thinking time, and they decided to form the Edinburgh Co-operative Building Company (ECBC).
They made it their mission to build houses for the working people, in revolt against the poor state of housing in Old Town. They had built over 2000 colony houses by 1911 at locations all over the city, and the first to move in were workers and builders themselves, many of whom worked on the nearby railway lines. It was their spirit of co-operation and the design of the rows of streets that led to the bee motif used for throughout this festival.
Artists who later inhabited these homes first came together in a similar fashion to the builders in 2005. They wanted to open their homes for a weekend to share their artwork with the local communities. And so, Colony of Artists was born.
The exhibition takes place every September in Abbeyhill and is completely free. It’s the perfect place to pick up a unique, local birthday present! I already spotted something I think one of my brothers would love…