DOK Artist Space, a venture founded by artists Karen Fleming and Olivia Turner, graduates of Edinburgh College of Art, were searching for studios (the irony being that Edinburgh, despite its world-renowned art college and thriving Arts Festival, lacks affordable studio space.) Ocean Terminal introduced the DOK directors to a mysterious building behind Ocean Terminal, known to the relatively few people aware of its existence as ‘the steel shed’.
Tucked between the multi-storey car park and the tranquil waters of Western Harbour, the shed was built when the area where people now shop, dine, view movies or use the 24-hour gym was the location of the Henry Robb shipyards. Constructed like a ship, complete with riveted seams and portholes, and painted battleship grey, it is a building of immense historic significance, a time capsule reflecting the era when Leith was a bustling port. Built by Robb's apprentices honing their skills, the steel building was originally a bomb-proof store for shipping blueprints, as well as a first-aid station.
Industrial decline in the 1980s, exacerbated by the Thatcher Government's switch in emphasis from manufacturing to financial markets, saw the Henry Robb yards close. Their gates creaked shut for the last time in June 1984, bringing 500 years of Leith shipbuilding to an end. As the Robb buildings were systematically scrapped, the steel shed survived, protected by Historic Scotland's granting of listed status. The former paint store first brushed with more contemporary artwork when the derelict jetty beside it was chosen to host Figure VI, a life-size figure created by Angel of the North sculptor Antony Gormley for his project 6 Times.
After DOK moved into the shed, Ocean Terminal, in conjunction with Forth Ports Authority, arranged for shipping containers to be placed alongside. DOK now offer studios for working artists and workshops for artists of all ages and abilities, as well as space for exhibitions by local and international artists working in a diverse range of mediums. DOK was a venue for the Edinburgh Arts Festival in 2016.
DOK’s aim is being steadily realised - to nurture a unique and vibrant artistic community beating at the very heart of what were once Leith’s prosperous docklands.