It will be a very different August in Edinburgh this year, without the hubbub of the Festival. But, then, it has been a very different year. For months, it seemed as if the historic city centre had somehow got stuck in the magical quiet of the small hours of a Sunday after the drinkers had gone home and before the first bagpiper had struck up, a quiet thick with the curfew-fear of lockdown, the necessary tyranny of “limited purposes”, yet the strange beauty of time and emptiness which, with year-round over-tourism and the rampant, creeping commercialisation of public space, seemed a rare gift.

The year has half-gone and the rains of August are coming, and we are only now a little more free to do the “unnecessary” and “inessential” – activities that, for many, turn out to be far more necessary and essential than some might have imagined.

Edinburgh’s galleries are slowing emerging, each in their own way.

Up on Calton Hill, the Collective Gallery, resident in Playfair’s old Observatory, has sat silent over Edinburgh these past few months, just as their historic telescopes shut their eyes to the skies.

Director Kate Gray, weathering the disappointment of a perhaps cancelled Edinburgh International Festival collaboration, is all too aware of the difficult times coming for public galleries. “But we made it a priority not to cancel any of our commitments to artists,” says Gray.

“I think we’re all very aware of our need to get some perspective on our current experiences.”

The gallery reopened its beautiful grounds a few weeks ago. “People tell us our site helps them to reflect, so we really wanted to open that out as a resource to the local community.”

Next, it will reopen the City Dome, which currently contains Julijonas Urbonas’s Planet of People, a project that involves scanning (in full PPE, suitably space-age) visitors as they enter the space individually, their images floating up to the domed ceiling.

Down the hill, at one of Dundas Street’s commercial galleries, Fine Art Society Director Emily Walsh says, in still quite cheerfully shocked fashion, that the lockdown has been rather good for them. “People bought art from our Ron Sandford exhibition catalogue, works no-one had seen in the flesh, at less than £5,000. Our June has been as good as any June, although part of that is the John Byrne effect,” she says, referring to their current exhibition.

“There are people who have good enough salaries and are not going on holidays, and they are buying art.” Since opening to drop-in visitors a few weeks ago, with face masks and hand sanitiser at the door, they have had a steady trickle of visitors.

Their main summer “Festival” show has been postponed, but the “upstairs” show, A History in Small Pictures, will spaciously ring the two floors of the gallery. A brisk walk along Edinburgh’s now considerably less deserted streets to the west, and the doors of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art are still shut, a security guard at the window distanced behind glass as if the Everyman of Lockdown, looking out on the locals who have so much enjoyed the spacious gallery grounds over the past few months.

Director Simon Groom tells me their lockdown began in hectic fashion with an urgent tracking down of works on loan. “We had a Degas in Washington, a Picasso in Canberra, a Van Gogh in Kobe.” Exhibitions were postponed or cancelled, “because a work might be due to be somewhere else six months down the line”.

The current phase of reopening is an outdoor audio sculpture trail and family activities. Next month, Modern I will reopen, continuing the final instalment of its NOW exhibition, as if we have simply been in stasis, albeit one from which we have emerged to a more distanced, altered reality.

That, certainly, chimes with the work of the inspired Katie Paterson, at the heart of this show, whose works, such as the Moonlight Sonata, transmitted to and bounced off the moon, returning in broken chords, resonate with humanity.

The Gallery is keen to reflect how life has changed, “not just as a result of the pandemic, but with Black Lives Matter and social inequality.

One of the great things about a gallery is that it is a space where you can go and reflect on your place in the world in front of a great procession of artworks from the past, reflecting what people thought at various times.

It gives a sense of community without the commercialism that has eaten into every other public civic space of our lives, and it is one of the last few places where you can do it.

Collective Gallery,, Thurs-Sun, 10am-3pm; kiosk cafe and toilets available

The Fine Art Society, Mon-Fri, 10am-6pm; Sat 10am-2pm

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Car Park open 9.45am-5.30pm; kiosk cafe and toilets available

The Edinburgh Art Festival has an up to date list of galleries’ reopening plans at


THE Edinburgh Art Festival 2020 might have been cancelled back in March, but all has not been entirely lost.

“About two months ago, we suddenly realised we could potentially have a small offering that could exist physically in the world, as well as digitally.

“We couldn’t have thought of it when we first locked down,” says Edinburgh Art Festival Director Sorcha Carey, marking this year’s dates with work from 10 artists revisiting resonant former Festival commissions, or making new work in response to the pandemic.

“It has been such an extraordinary time to reflect on what matters, individually and as a society, and we wanted to respond to that, in Edinburgh.”

The format will involve citywide billboards and online works, but there will also – circumstances allowing – be a few live performances, and the festival is also supporting the new Black Lives Matter mural trail in Edinburgh, part of a nationwide project by Scottish black, Asian and minority ethnic artists.

Of the 10 commissions, Ruth Ewan has revisited her Sympathetic Magik (2018), to produce a series of posters that are “a call to collective action, and what we can do to protect society”.

Hanna Tuulikki will re-stage Sing Sign, first performed in a close off the Royal Mile, with a live performance with her collaborator on a digital link-up, the challenge of communicating across a digital screen a pertinent one for us all in the last few months.

Also making a reappearance are Peter Liversidge’s Hello flags (2013), decking parks, iconic buildings and community centres across Edinburgh. “It’s an opportunity for us to say hello to each other as we come back out, and to send a wave out to the wider world.”

Edinburgh Art Festival, locations across Edinburgh and online,, from July 30 to Aug 30


Open by appointment only, the Scottish Gallery is forging ahead with their August exhibition programme, opening their Modern Masters Women at the end of the month, a rigorous overview of the renowned female artists that the long-lived gallery has represented from Joan Eardley to Victoria Crowe, Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham to Emily Sutton. There are some wonderful and hugely diverse works here, a testament to the range of human artistic endeavour, of individual women’s history and stories that resonate all the more given where we find ourselves now.

Modern Masters Women, The Scottish Gallery, 16 Dundas Street, Edinburgh, 0131 558 1200,, Jul 29-Aug 29, By appointment only: Tues-Fri, 10am-6pm; Sat 11am-1pm