Art, Interviews
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Behind Grassroots Culture: Interview with Morvern Cunningham

Morvern Cunningham © Eoin Carey

When I moved to Edinburgh I was keen and curious to find out about the artistic pulse of the city. Clearly spoilt with an overwhelming cluster of contemporary visual art, pop-up exhibitions and street art around almost every corner, it took a bit of adapting to the new surroundings. Looking past the rather conservative art scene façade, far from prime location galleries and the annual Festival Fringe extravaganza on Royal Mile, there’s a bunch of hidden gems waiting to be discovered in the midst of Edinburgh’s often neglected neighbourhood of Leith. One venture, that’s jointly responsible for the area’s growing reputation as a vibrant and colourful haven for creatives, is LeithLate. Time for a wee chat with founder Morvern Cunningham about art in the Scottish capital, ongoing projects and ambitions for 2014.

Hello Morvern, for anyone unfamiliar with your work, tell us a bit about LeithLate. LeithLate is an annual multi-arts event that takes place across multiple Leith venues in the space of one night. We are also responsible for a number of public art initiatives in Leith including The Mural Project and The Shutter Project. For LeithLate14, we are expanding to a two day event with a longer route and more venues, as well as running an outdoor exhibition in collaboration with Leith Walkers.

How would you describe Edinburgh’s art scene and why does Leith set itself apart from the rest of the city? Edinburgh has plenty of posh galleries but very little opportunity or platforms for artists just out of art school or artists looking for cool exhibition spaces. For the last few years, Leith has been emerging as a magnet for grassroots art activity; its low rents initially attracted artists to the area for affordable studio and gallery space and as Leith’s artistic reputation has grown over the years, more artists have chosen to make Leith their home. LeithLate grew out of a need to showcase Leith’s grassroots spaces on a wider scale, the first event taking place in 2011. A number of the original grassroots spaces have since closed or have evolved into something new, and so it goes.


Your Mural and Shutter projects have been well received by the public. How did it all start out and evolve throughout the years? I was originally approached to facilitate shutter artworks by the City of Edinburgh Council. We developed the idea to bring together emerging artists and local business owners to create a bespoke work of art on the shutter of the business – an artwork the artist felt was part of their portfolio and something the business owner felt ownership of. Six shutters were originally completed, we’ve now secured funding for three more which we are in the process of installing.
The Mural Project was an evolution of the The Shutter Project and its first artwork initially came out of a collaboration with the artists’ collective Blameless. We installed a large-scale new mural for Leith entitled The Leith Aquatic on the site of a former, destroyed mural on Halmyre Street, which included consultation with the local community and an informal street party on the day of the unveiling. I was later contacted by international street artist Guido van Helten and facilitated his artwork Seven Deadly Sins on the site of a former rubber mill on Leith Walk. Our most recent large-scale work was the installation of an homage to Eduardo Paolozzi by Russell Ian Dempster on the front of a derelict shop on Henderson Street.

Tell us a bit about the process of picking suitable artists and seeking out potential locations for the artworks. It’s a bit like curating the LeithLate event really; sometimes I might have an artist that I know I want to use and I try and find a suitable space for them, and sometimes the space comes first and I try and find an artist that fits. Some business owners flat out say no when we ask them to be a part of the project, some are really keen, it just depends. Once the artist and the space have been matched up, that’s not the end of the journey as they both need to be happy with the design before the artwork can be installed. Sometimes this can take a bit of negotiation on behalf of myself and the artist, sometimes the business owner is happy with whatever the artist comes up with. There was an instance with one shutter when the business owner simply didn’t like any of the ideas the artist was coming up with, so we had to move on to a different business who was then delighted with the final artwork designed for their space!


Leith as Edinburgh’s alternative, creative haven, what does your art projects – during and alongside the annual event – mean to the local community? I hope they mean a lot! It’s a great privilege for me to be able to contribute aesthetically to my community and living environment and we always get a great response from the event and art projects that we do. I know from the past that the local community for the most part take these artworks to their hearts and feel ownership of them, which is always the intention. Of course, not everyone likes ALL the art we do, but art is a subjective thing so I don’t expect to please all of the people all of the time. What matters is bringing art to the people and supporting the artists at the same time, whilst brightening up Leith too!

What can we expect of LeithLate 2014? LeithLate14 is expanding this year to a two day event with a longer route, longer duration and even more participating venues! We’ve also got lots of new exciting collaborations with various organisations working in art, film, music and spoken word. The afterparty this year takes place in the Thomas Morton Hall on Ferry Road and we’ve got a diverse line-up with exciting additional elements in store for those lucky enough to get a ticket. The full LeithLate14 programme and afterparty line-up will be announced later on in May.


LeithLate takes place on Saturday 21st June (5pm – 10pm) & Sunday 22nd June (12pm – 5pm).

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Navigating the world through graphic abstraction: David Lemm | INTOSHALLOWDEPTHS

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