Unique and Inspiring: St Margaret’s House

For this edition I wanted to bring St. Margaret’s House, one of Edinburgh’s most important but lesser-known galleries, into the spotlight. Regularly holding impressive exhibitions as part of an innovative wider mission, St. Margaret’s House is one of my favourite spots in Edinburgh. So I undertook the hour-long walk from Marchmont to the dark side of Holyrood Park to have a chat with some of the people who work there.

I talked with Dale Gibson, CEO and director of Edinburgh Palette – the charity under which St. Margaret’s House operates and within whose building it resides – about how the organisation works. Amid Irish folk-tale allegories and charmingly-convoluted trains of thought, I gathered that the charity’s essential mission is to provide artistic entrepreneurs with materials, space, and opportunities that allow them to achieve creative goals they otherwise might not be able to.

Dale’s focus is entirely on treating people with the respect that they deserve as human beings and encouraging any and all possibilities for flourishing that walk through his perpetually open door.
The building itself places a huge importance on the value of community as something that can be of aid to the well-being and personal development of everyone; free tea, coffee, and biscuits abound, and the corridors punctuated by warm communal spaces, the space engenders a palpable sense of community presence.

On a sofa in the middle of the empty gallery, I spoke with curator Marcin Krupa, who every so often would sprint out of the room, coffee in hand, to answer incoming calls. He told me about his vision for the gallery; for Marcin, the position of St. Margaret’s House within the broader art scene of Edinburgh is one of uniqueness. The gallery moves away from the staid monotony of most Edinburgh galleries by presenting provocative, controversial, and challenging artworks by lesser-known but highly-gifted artists.

Marcin uses the gallery’s financial independence (funded entirely by the low rents paid for Edinburgh Pallette’s studios) to promote a rejection of the commercialised art scene in Edinburgh, which forces both artists and curators to bend to the conservative taste of collectors. Instead he works from an idea instilled in him during his 10 years of studying Fine Art in Poland: “Art is never for sale” and should be valued in itself, for what it says or shows, not for what it costs.

His curatorship echoes the humanist ideas central to Dale’s mission with Edinburgh Palette: he consistently works to provide a space for struggling and emerging artists who are presenting for the first time or might not be able to afford the substantial cost of gallery space elsewhere. Focused on helping artists and treating them with the respect they deserve, a positive mission of well-being is clearly central to his role.

The landlord of Edinburgh Palette’s current HQ on London Road has recently signed a deal with a corporation to kick out Edinburgh Palette and turn the building into student accommodation, and I must admit that I initially intended this editorial to be a call-to-arms for all our more revolutionarily-inclined readers to fight this corporate venture.

But when I brought it up with Dale, he calmly reclined in his chair and began to speak of something called ‘The Village’ with a subtle pride that betrayed his well-hidden idealistic side. The Village is Dale’s vision of Edinburgh Palette’s future, which consists of a five-acre site on Stanley Street, populated with hundreds of studios and quality accommodation for artists, owned outright by the charity. The ex-hotelier and ruthless pragmatist was keen to stress that this was not some sort of “hippie” commune but rather a totally non-hippie hamlet community, in which will be found “a meeting of the right and left” that alights a stress on the importance of individual enterprise with an egalitarian and community-driven system.

Utopian it may be, but a five minute conversation with Dale will leave any listener entirely devoid of doubts as to his ability to make something like this happen, and he was pleasingly sure to present me with plans and blueprints to satisfy my starry-eyed enquiries.

St. Margaret’s House and, more broadly, Edinburgh Palette is undoubtedly a space deserving of both our attention and our support. Marcin’s exhibitions consistently provide a space for provocative works that would otherwise go unnoticed, and Dale’s non-hippie utopian dream is an exciting possibility in Edinburgh’s artistic future.

Illustration: Frannie Wise

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The Student Newspaper 2016