THE new head of exhibitions at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens has said contemporary art will still have a home at Inverleith House.

Emma Nicolson, who has begun her new role at the the Gardens (RBGE), said the house - at the centre of huge cultural controversy two years ago when it was announced it was to stop being used exclusively for contemporary art shows - is at the core of her plans at the institution.

However Ms Nicolson, founding director of Atlas Arts on Skye, said the first fruits of her curatorial decisions will be seen after 2020 - the Gardens have already booked a series of shows until then.

This year’s major summer show, not organised by Ms Nicolson, is already arranged: Microsculpture by Levon Bliss, which will run at Inverleith House from July to September.

This is an exhibition of large and detailed insect portraits, from the collection of the Oxford University Museum.

READ MORE: Flashback to 2017, when Inverleith House was at centre of uproar

There was uproar in 2016 when the RBGE spelled the end of Inverleith House as a permanent gallery for contemporary art.

Ms Nicolson has now indicated that it was key to her plans, if not an exclusive home for contemporary art.

In her first interview since taking the post, Ms Nicolson said that while the House’s shows may include a number of different genres, and she is looking to make the 18th century building “more dynamic”, with more use of its basement, better signage, and is looking at how “art can spill out into the gardens.”

She is also hoping that the Gardens will become a stage for Edinburgh International Festival shows.

Ms Nicolson is now to write a new Arts Strategy, and business plan, for exhibitions at the gardens and wishes to engage with the wider arts community and RBGE staff about its future.

Since the departure of the previous curator of 30 years, Paul Nesbitt, other RBGE staff, led by Dr Ian Edwards, head of public engagement, have programmed a series of shows until 2020.

Until then, Ms Nicolson said she will only provide “subtle interventions” until she can arrange her own full programme.

She will work with the gardens’ Arts Advisory Group, which meets again this month.

Ms Nicolson said: “As far as I am concerned I have been employed to programme Inverleith House and re-think its future in relation to the challenging times for the world: thinking of climate change, and the science that is happening here that is cutting edge - this is rich material for artists to engage with.”

READ MORE: Major names signed the Inverleith House petition

She added: “I am looking at how we make Inverleith House more dynamic: how do we consider the welcome they get when people come in? And there’s the basement that I really want to activate as a kind of hub.

“We have an amazing resource of artists monographs and books relating to plants, and can we do micro-[artist] residencies? There is opportunity to really re-think.”

She said the outrage over its fate had been like a “Hadron collider” reaction.

A petition to have the decision reversed was signed by 10,000 people, including many leading arts figures.

She said: “I think that it was really interesting to see the many views that [uproar] exposed: on one hand you have the idea of a place that remains the same, the status quo, and on the other, you have the opportunity to re-imagine, and re-frame it in the context in which we are now working now.

“We are looking at how we might re-position the arts programme within that civic role, and re-align it to the mission of the Gardens around science, health and well-being, and uniting art and science in a new and refreshed way.

“It’s one of the most amazing opportunities for contemporary art in Scotland to really position itself within the environmental debate, within climate change, and those really urgent concerns of our age.”

Of the uproar she added: “Yes, there’s been a very difficult past, and I said when I was interviewed for this job: you cannot buy that kind of loyalty, you have got to harness that: what other institution could summon up that kind of support locally, nationally and internationally? It’s incredible, and that’s the legacy of an amazing programme.

“So I am one of those passionate supporters of the House - but I also believe that there is an opportunity to look at the role of the art and contacting it to that civic role.”

READ MORE: Inverleith House hosted The Lost Words in 2018

Ms Nicolson said she wants to move away from a “modernist approach to monographic, male, western, programming.”

Ms Nicolson added: “We want to connect with the Festival seasons and be a player in that, and I am very interested in bringing in internationally profiled contemporary artists.

“But I am also interested in architects and fashion designers - you have fashion designers like Erdem [Moralioglu] working with floral patterns, wouldn’t it be amazing to work with an artist like that?”