Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) is an art, design, creative and performing arts school in Edinburgh, the oldest and largest in Scotland, providing higher education in art and design, architecture, history of art and music disciplines for over two thousand University of Edinburgh students. ECA has an international reputation as one of the most successful art colleges in Europe; its stated mission is to promote critical inquiry through scholarly research, learning, teaching and education in creative practice. ECA is a School in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Edinburgh and comprises five subject areas: School of Art, Reid School of Music, School of Design, School of History of Art, Edinburgh School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture (ESALA). ECA is mainly located in the Old Town of Edinburgh, overlooking the Grassmarket; the Lauriston Place campus is located in the University of Edinburgh's Central Area Campus, not far from George Square. It was ranked 1st in Art and Design in the UK in The Complete University Guide 2012.
The college was founded in 1760, and gained its present name and site in 1907. Formerly associated with Heriot-Watt University, its degrees have been issued by the University of Edinburgh since 2004. The College formally merged with the University on 1 August 2011, combining with the School of Arts, Culture and Environment and continues to exist with the name Edinburgh College of Art as an enlarged school in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. As a result, the new Edinburgh College of Art comprises not only Art, Design, Architecture and Landscape Architecture, but also History of Art and Music. In September 2011 Professor Chris Breward became Principal of Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and Vice Principal Creative Industries & Performing Arts of the University of Edinburgh.
Edinburgh College of Art can trace its history back to 1760, when the Trustees Drawing Academy of Edinburgh was established by the Board of Trustees for Fisheries, Manufactures and Improvements in Scotland. This board had been set up by Act of Parliament in 1727 to "encourage and promote the fisheries or such other manufactures and improvements in Scotland as may most conduce to the general good of the United Kingdom". The aim of the academy was to train designers for the manufacturing industries. Drawing and the design of patterns for the textile industries were taught at the Academy's rooms at Picardy Place.
The Board was responsible for the construction of the Royal Institution (named for the Royal Institution for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Scotland), now the Royal Scottish Academy building, on The Mound and also commissioned the Scottish National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street. From 1826, classes were held at the Royal Institution building. The Master of the School was always a fine artist, the first being French painter William Delacour. Subsequent masters included Alexander Runciman and David Allan. The Academy's focus gradually shifted from applied arts to encompass fine art, and the school gained a reputation for excellence in both painting and design. Scottish artists who were trained at the Academy include John Brown, Alexander Nasmyth and Andrew Wilson.
In 1858, the Academy was affiliated to the Science and Art Department in London, known as the "South Kensington system", under which it became the Government School of Art for the city of Edinburgh. A School of Applied Art was also established under this system. The Drawing School became part of a system of schools managed on similar lines, and distinctive teaching practices were lost. In 1903 it amalgamated with the School of Applied Art. In 1907, the Scottish Education Department took over responsibility for the school, and it became Edinburgh College of Art.
The College was officially recognised by the Scottish Government as a Small Specialist Institution for the teaching of art, design and architecture prior to the merger with University of Edinburgh in 2011. From 1968 to 2004, it was associated with Heriot-Watt University for degree awarding purposes. Today's students graduate from the College with degrees awarded by the University of Edinburgh as prior to the merger in 2011, the two institutions were partners in an academic federation.
With the creation of Edinburgh College of Art in 1907, the institution moved to new premises on Lady Lawson Street. Formerly a cattle market, the site lies above the Grassmarket and opposite Edinburgh Castle. The red sandstone main building was designed in the Beaux-Arts style by John More Dick Peddie and George Washington Browne, and was completed in 1909. The main building was listed Category A in 1970. Inside, the Sculpture Court displays casts of the Elgin Marbles and other antique statuary, alongside changing displays of contemporary student's work.
The Architecture Building was added to the east end of the college in 1961, designed by architect Ralph Cowan, who was a Professor of Architecture at the college. In 1977 the Lauriston Campus was expanded with the addition of the Hunter Building. This L-shaped red sandstone block encloses the college courtyard, and fronts Lauriston Place to the south. In the 1990s the college took over a separate group of buildings in the Grassmarket, for use as a library and teaching space, and also took over the former Salvation Army building on West Port. These buildings in the Grassmarket and West Port were disposed of after the College purchased Evolution House.
The nine-storey Evolution House on West Port by Reiach and Hall Architects was completed 2003, adjacent to the main College building. Built as speculative offices, it now houses the art and design library, as well as providing design studios and office facilities for the School of Design. While the College remains mainly concentrated on the Lauriston Place Campus, as a result of the merger with the University of Edinburgh in August 2011, the new enlarged ECA incorporated Minto House on Chambers Street (ESALA) and Alison House in Nicolson Square (Reid School of Music). In 2017, the Lauriston Campus expanded to include the former Lothian 'Museum of Fire' Building (arch. Robert Morham, 1897-1901).
The Wee Red Bar serves as the student union bar, and acts as a year-round venue for gigs and theatre shows, and also acts a venue during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
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