One of Edinburgh’s best kept secrets

Posted by in September's Magazine

It has been a momentous 12 or so months for DOK Artist Space, an arts venture centred on the last standing building of the Henry Robb shipyards. From the moment they took over what had been a rusting metal shed for decades, two Edinburgh College of Art graduates, Karen Fleming and Olivia Turner, seized the opportunity to begin creating the grassroots arts space they had dreamt of, comprising affordable studios and an exhibition area. 

Clearing out years of accumulated junk, they inserted wooden partitions to create studios, built a stairwell to the upper storey (previously accessed by a rickety ladder), installed new lighting, heating, a sink and a toilet (albeit a chemical one as they have never been able to afford a drainage system!) They were also given a 40 ft shipping container from Forth Ports that they eventually painted and renovated themselves with some help and favours called in from friends and family.


There was no cutting of ribbons or loud fanfares but after several months’ hard work DOK Artist Space was ready to welcome artists and public alike after the official opening in June 2016. It’s safe to say the ideas driving this community art space have never shown the slightest sign of abating.

Despite having been officially open for just over a year DOK has now hosted over 25 exhibitions. It was chosen as a venue by the Edinburgh Art Festival in 2016, displaying an outdoor installation by Petter Yxell, a Swedish artist and Baha Görkem Yalim, from Turkey, curated by London based ANGL Collective. It has hosted painting, sculpture and photography exhibitions, including the Edinburgh Student Art Festival 2017, the Architectural Fringe 2017, the Audacious Women Festival, and displays by Napier University photography students, among many others.

The eclectic nature of the art presented by DOK is amply illustrated by the fact that the venue was chosen by Carme Nogueira, a Spanish-born multidisciplinary researcher and artist, for her study Leith Walk: Our Share of The Profits – a one night event of film screenings, publications, live speaking and open conversation. There have been theatre and contemporary dance events, film screenings, slideshows, photography studios and life drawing classes. There are also longer-term plans to introduce a mentoring scheme for local school pupils interested in pursuing a career in the arts, inviting them to make full use of the facilities.

While the central ethos of DOK is to promote the arts in Scotland, the shed’s metal rafters occasionally echo to the strains of avante-garde music. The most recent example was a two-night residency by alternative rock collective Normil Hawaiians, a gathering of musicians who have been performing since the early 1980s when BBC Radio 1’s legendary John Peel introduced their left-leaning indie sounds to a wider audience. At DOK they played a mixture of psychedelic-tinged pop and ambient soundtracks, individual musicians drifting in and out of the mix, often swapping instruments.

Among the audience was their third album’s producer, Dave Anderson, whose claim to fame is that he was the bassist who left Hawkwind in 1972 to be replaced by Lemmy. Rodney Relax also performed – a self-styled punk-poet familiar to audiences of another fantastic Edinburgh arts/sounds project, Neu! Reekie! In June postpunk band Noniconic played two sets incorporating samples, synths, sequencers, electronic drums and a dizzying array of guitar effects.

The only blip to DOK’s trajectory has been the fact that the steel shed is no longer B-listed. (Historic Environment Scotland removed this status last December: because it was moved from its original position during various developments it no longer met the strict listing criteria.) In March 2017 a press release was issued by a business partnership who have invested £5 million towards constructing the brand new Port of Leith distillery on this corner of Western Harbour.

At this point it is worth underscoring that DOK Artist Space and the steel shed are separate entities. Regardless of the results of planning applications or anything else that might influence the building’s future, DOK will be retaining the containers on the land allocated to them by Ocean Terminal, who have always been fully supportive. DOK aim to continue maintaining a vibrant community art space in the heart of the former docklands, reflecting the area’s industrial heritage but constantly looking at ways to inspire modern Leithers. To that end they are now campaigning to attract sponsors and raise £50,000 towards adding to their containers to create a truly unique artistic hub for Leith.

No one connected with DOK could have anticipated this level of success after 12 months. The most recent exhibition, Locality, attracted submissions from all over the world. Despite being a non-profit entity run by directors who have to juggle everything with demanding day jobs, DOK are keen to maintain their high standard. The List recently highlighted DOK Artist Space among a list of ‘secret art galleries you must visit in Edinburgh and Glasgow.’ The good news is DOK is becoming less of a secret all the time. ν

Info: Follow the progress of DOK Artist Space at and @dokartistspace

2 responses to “One of Edinburgh’s best kept secrets”

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