A watershed moment for Scottish education arrived in 2011 when Edinburgh College of Art merged with the University of Edinburgh. Not only did it bring together all five subject areas – Architecture & Landscape Architecture, Art, History of Art, Design, and Music - it also led to the creation of the University of Edinburgh Art Collection, boasting 2,500 works of art from the university’s original, 400-year-old collection, and the college’s prints, drawings, sculptures and paintings.
Having always prided itself on creating an environment of team work and experimentation, allowing students with different strengths to learn from each other, teaming up with the university only served to strengthen that ethos.
Its story, of course, starts long before that particular collaboration. ECA’s origins date back to the 1760s, when the Trustees’ Academy was founded. The subsequent 100 years saw activities take place in some of the city’s most striking buildings, not least the Royal Scottish Academy and the University’s Old College.
The name Edinburgh College of Art has been a permanent fixture since 1906, when there was a bold reshuffle of higher art education throughout Scotland. At that point, ECA was run by the city council and separated into four schools – Architecture, Design & Crafts, Drawing & Painting, and Sculpture.
Staff and student numbers tended to rise and decrease during the two World Wars of the 20th century. However, the introduction of The Andrew Grant Bequest proved to be a big hit amongst students, as it enabled them to travel overseas and support the creation of new artefacts and public artefacts via a Fellowship project.
ECA’s Fine Art degree was brought in jointly with the university in 1946, the year after the end of the Second World War, and it was a combination of art history and art practice. To this day, it is a popular choice with people who enrol to the college. Two years later, a similar degree, this time in Architecture, was added. The Forbes Chair of Architecture, a new post, improved links between the two education providers.
By 1960, ECA had become independent of the city council, and broke new ground 12 months later by appointing painter William Gillies as Principal – the first former student of the college to be handed the role.
Over the next 25 years, ECA built a successful working relationship with Heriot-Watt University, gradually increasing shared work between the two sites. Talbot Rice Gallery, named in honour of acclaimed art historian David Talbot Rice, was unveiled in 1975, and the Wee Red Bar followed in the 1980s.
In 2009, the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA) was established by the joining of each discipline from across the university and ECA.
The summer of 2017 saw ECA receive an Athena SWAN Bronze Award, three years after ESALA collected the same accolade. The award recognises the advancement of gender equality. It was created in 2005 to encourage and acknowledge commitment to advancing the careers of women in a number of different areas, including engineering, science, technology, and of course, the arts.