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High School Yards Steps Unveiled

The High School Yards Steps have been reopened to the public after 12 years of closure with an art installation by renown Edinburgh artist Callum Innes.

Jun 23, 2015

The historic steps, which link the Cowgate and High School Yards, were closed in 2003 after reports of anti-social behaviour. Their restoration is the result of an 18 month partnership project to revive the route between the City of Edinburgh Council, Edinburgh World Heritage and the University of Edinburgh.

As well as significant conservation work, including the renewal of railings and the addition of gates to close the stairs off at night, the refurbished steps feature a bespoke installation by Callum Innes.

Aiming to reclaim the area as a public space, the artwork features an infrared camera which captures the movement of people as they climb the steps, projecting their silhouettes onto a large LED mesh screen above them, revealing a hidden section of the stairs.

Short clips of silhouetted movement, created by Innes in collaboration with young adults from the nearby Panmure St Ann’s Centre and artists Catherine Payton and Tom Nolan, also play on a loop when the stairs are empty.

Transport and Environment Convener, Councillor Lesley Hinds, who helped open the steps, said: “The incredible transformation of High School Yards steps is testament to the partnership working by all those involved in this project, including members of the local community.

Adam Wilkinson, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said: “This exciting project demonstrates again how neglected areas of the World Heritage Site can be transformed to the benefit to the city, through an innovative mixture of heritage conservation and public art and collaborative working.

“Our funding has helped to conserve these Victorian steps to the highest standard, but Callum’s work fundamentally transforms our perceptions of this space, adding both enchantment and safety. The High School Yards Steps have now been reclaimed as useful public space, supporting an oft-overlooked area of the Old Town.”

Architect Malcolm Fraser who initiated the project said: "Re-opening the High School Yards Steps, up to Surgeons Square, where the University has created the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation out of the old Royal High School, restores an essential connection to a once-neglected corner of Edinburgh's Old Town.  History and connectivity are reinvigorated, and Callum Innes' artwork brings light, colour and movement to the climb.  This is art that celebrates life and community, bringing beauty, drama and safety to the Steps in one simple move."

The regeneration of the steps was an important aspect of the design of the University of Edinburgh’s new Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI) building at High School Yards, Scotland’s only low carbon innovations hub and the UK's greenest historic building.

By improving the appearance of the steps and limiting night time entry – gates will be closed between 8pm and 9am – it is hoped that anti-social behaviour, littering and graffiti will be deterred.

The total cost of the work was £214,536, jointly funded by Edinburgh World Heritage, the University of Edinburgh and the City of Edinburgh Council’s Neighbourhood Environment Projects budget, which offers local groups the opportunity to deliver projects.

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