The Humboldt Forum: Lessons for Scotland and the world

Architectural model of the new building for the Humboldt Forum.

Architectural model of the new building for the Humboldt Forum.
Image: Wikimedia Commons (Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)

Sometimes one is presented, unexpectedly, with visions of such ambition and worth that they leave you reeling. It seemed fitting on the first day of spring that we should be presented with one such vision by Professor Dr Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation at a workshop co-hosted by the Centre for Cultural Relations at the University of Edinburgh, the National Museums of Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Continue reading

Collecting Contemporary: Collections as Conversations

Timepieces (2014), Katie Paterson Part of the University of Edinburgh Art Collection. Installed in the Edinburgh College of Art Main Building.

Timepieces (2014), Katie Paterson
Part of the University of Edinburgh Art Collection. Installed in the Edinburgh College of Art Main Building.

It was good to attend the Collecting Contemporary event in the University of Edinburgh’s Playfair Library on 16th February 2016 which included a preview of the upcoming Collecting Contemporary website, and coincided with both the inaugural publication of Affiliate’s new imprint and the opening week of British Art Show 8, showing in the adjacent Talbot Rice Gallery, Inverleith House and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Continue reading

Design in Motion

Travelling Gallery (Image courtesy of V&A Dundee)

The Design in Motion travelling gallery (Image courtesy of V&A Dundee)

Like a scene from the Cliff Richard movie ‘Summer Holiday’, the V&A Dundee ‘Design in Motion’ bus pulled in to Edinburgh last week.

I took the opportunity to take a tour at its stop-over in George Street. In collaboration with the Travelling Gallery, the bus is showcasing the work of contemporary designers trained or based in Scotland who engage with the challenges of digital technology. Continue reading

Mary & Elizabeth in Princes Street Gardens

Princes Street Gardens. Image by Bernt Rostad (, used under a Creative Commons license.

Princes Street Gardens. Image by Bernt Rostad (, used under a Creative Commons license.

Last night was the opening of the 2014 Edinburgh Art Festival, marked by a welcome dinner for participating artists from across the Commonwealth at the National Galleries of Scotland on the Mound.

As a prelude to the dinner, guests were invited to engage with Jacqueline Donachie’s intriguing installation ‘Mary and Elizabeth’ in Princes Street Gardens. Continue reading

Scottish Colourists and Miss Jean Brodie

People and Sails by JD Fergusson. Artwork in the public domain.

“People and Sails” by JD Fergusson. Artwork in the public domain.

I read two interesting articles in this weekend’s newspapers: in the Financial Times there was a review of the exhibition of JD Fergusson’s paintings at Chichester’s fantastic Pallant House Gallery, and in the Guardian there was a recollection by Penelope Jardine of her life in Italy with novelist Muriel Spark, written to coincide with a new collection of essays by Spark (The Golden Fleece), edited by Jardine. Reading these in tandem, in an Edinburgh made even more beautiful than usual by uncharacteristic unbroken sunshine, brought home to me the very particular character of a city that I have only called home for three years, but which is increasingly opening up its reticent personality to me in the manner of a slowly developing friendship. Continue reading

Poster Art of Modern China

Chinese Poster

Part of a Chinese poster from 1964, depicting a harvest scene.
The caption reads ‘Achieve great harvest every year’.

Last Friday morning I opened an international conference at ECA focusing on Poster Art of Modern China and coinciding with the continuing exhibition on the same theme in Chambers Street. Continue reading



This week saw the opening of several exhibitions that are part of the GENERATION programme, celebrating 25 years of Contemporary Art in Scotland and coinciding with the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. As ever, Edinburgh lined all its ducks up at the same time and on Thursday evening the city’s artists’ community enjoyed a round of buzzing private views in its independent and national galleries. Continue reading


Welcome to Art School Head, a blog that reflects on all things Art School and particularly on all things Edinburgh College of Art (ECA). It seems a timely moment to start writing about the culture of Art School life.

The College is just celebrating the third anniversary of its merger with the University of Edinburgh in 2011 and last week the Scottish Funding Council made its formal report on the merger’s progress to Michael Russell MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning.

A key line in the report suggested that ‘the identity, ethos, pedagogy, and studio-based culture of the former ECA…has demonstrated a new dynamism and energy’, and that the Funding Council team had ‘identified a sense of excitement and anticipation at the opportunities for collaboration and interdisciplinary working made possible by the merger – a characteristic that increasingly defines the ‘new’ ECA.’

So what is the identity, ethos and culture of ECA now, in its post-merger situation? And how does it relate to the life of the university, the city, the country and the creative network of individuals and institutions that we interact with across the world? In a broader sense, what does it mean to work and practice in an Art School in the early twenty-first century?

I’m privileged to hold the office of Principal of ECA, which provides me with the ideal position from which to reflect on some of these questions, to comment on some of the challenges and to record the very distinctive developments and events that fill our working days. I engage with colleagues and students across our five schools of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Art, Design, History of Art and the Reid School of Music, and with other schools and colleges across the University of Edinburgh.

I represent ECA as it works with Edinburgh’s many galleries, museums, orchestras, festivals and other cultural organisations. And I travel to support partnerships in the UK and elsewhere.

As this blog develops I hope we can generate some dialogue that makes sense of that experience (its everyday rhythms and more spectacular happenings) and enriches the special environment that us Art School people are lucky enough to inhabit.

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