Summerhall is a multi-arts complex and events venue in Edinburgh, Scotland, and in the UK only London's Barbican Centre and Birmingham's mac (Midlands Art Centre) are bigger. Formerly home to the veterinary school of the University of Edinburgh, it is now one of the major venues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe each year with a festival programme of about 200 productions.
It also hosts events for the Edinburgh Science Festival and Edinburgh International Magic Festival and others, and provides a home for arts practitioners year round. Its over 600 rooms are used for art exhibitions, libraries, small museums, educational and research programmes, artist studios, offices, labs and workshops. About 400 people work there of which 100 are engaged in arts programming and related activities, growing to 300 during the festival in August. It receives annually three quarters of a million visitors and co-produces and hosts over 1,300 shows and events. There are eight theatres and over twenty exhibition spaces, and more than this during the festival. The complex has about 600 rooms. One third are occupied by arts and technology tenants. Two thirds are for arts activities and support functions. There is a gastro-pub bar and café.
Early records show the Summerhall site was a farm, a cottage, and a family run brewery in the 1710s. All that remains of this brewery are a well and stone rubble sandstone boundary wall. Terraced houses, two churches, and shops occupied the site for many years, until they made way for the purpose-built Royal (Dick) Veterinary College, built during World War I, when the veterinary school moved there from North St Andrew Street and Clyde Street (now Multrees Walk) in the city centre. Summerhall retains many items on display from the veterinary school's history. Summerhall believe in adapting the arts to spaces to retain as much of the building's inherited character as possible. Most artists and theatre companies prefer exhibiting and performing in spaces with an explicit history rather than in clinically new or relatively soulless places and spaces.
Building the college at Summerhall began in 1913. It was the third home for the UK's second oldest veterinary school (1823) named in the 1860s after its founder Professor William Dick in response to nearby New Veterinary College. Dick was a former student of the anatomist John Barclay of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. On 21 July 1914, a memorial stone and time capsule were laid underneath the grand entrance steps. Work slowed on the outbreak of the First World War, due to a lack of labour as young men joined the armed forces. The veterinary college moved to the site in 1916, and the college was based in the main building and wings to the rear courtyard. The Anatomy Lecture Theatre, still extant, has wooden, curved, tiered seating and vaulted sky light. It is the last surviving example of this type of lecture theatre at veterinary colleges in the United Kingdom. Elsewhere on Summerhall's site, "TechCube" is a seven storey 1960s block of offices and laboratories at the corner of Summerhall Crescent and Hope Park Terrace. It replaced the Hope Park United Presbyterian Church designed by Edinburgh architects Peddie and Mackay. The church opened for worship in September 1867, and its spire could be seen from a large distance, the height of which dictated the height of the veterinary school's tower block that replaced it. The Hope Park Church Galleries were originally the Hope Park and Buccleuch Congregational Church, built in 1876, originally designed to seat 730.
The college became a full faculty of the University of Edinburgh in 1964, and continues as that in the 21st century at its new campus (Europe's largest veterinary campus) at Easter Bush to the southwest of the city. The vets vacated Summerhall in 2011 when it was acquired by the McDowell family with the deal finalized at precisely 11 minutes past 11 o'clock on the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year with 2 minutes silence in memory of war dead.
The Demarco European Art Foundation occupies the southern wing of the main building. Summerhall's first Edinburgh Festival programme was in August 2011. In 2012, Summerhall opened fully to the public to provide festival arts all year round. Summerhall and its programmes have gained over one hundred critical prizes and awards in its first five years and been featured in BBC and other television and radio channels and has its own online Summerhall.tv. A dozen films have been shot on site. Summerhall attracts about 500 media reviews annually.
About half of all shows and artists are from outside Scotland and at least half from outside UK, many from the contemporary world's trouble-spots and war zones including journalists, photographers, film-makers, visual artists, dancers, musicians, singers and theatre companies. Each Summerhall festival has artists from 30-40 countries.
As well as operating as an arts centre, the building houses many artists, technologists and other creative enterprises including a microbrewery (Barney's Beer) and gin distillery (Pickerings). In its first five years thousands of artists have shown and performed at Summerhall in all art forms.
- "Summerhall". Edinburgh Guide. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
- "A Brief History of Summerhall". Summerhall. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
- Warwick, C.M. and Macdonald, A.A. 2010. "The Life of Professor Orlando Charnock Bradley, (1871-1937): diary entries 1895-1923". Veterinary History, 15, 205-220.