Illustration by Hannah Robinson

As we begin to put the finishing touches to our degrees, there is a distinct sense of reflection among me and my friends. Indeed, as a student at a Scottish university, I’ve savoured every single one of those four years. I’ve learnt coffees are burning a hole in my bank balance. Do I hear a snigger in the back row? And that our human compulsion to create art and literature is essentially pointless. Stay with me on this one. 

The lack of necessity for art and literature is precisely why they endure. Indeed, my first experience at a northstreet.collective exhibition in Edinburgh on Thursday confirmed that art for art’s sake is alive and kicking. 

The afternoon set-up was in Cafe Greenhouse. A sagacious choice considering the recent groundswell in Leith’s status as the place to be – whether for its street art, its food festivals, or its music scene. The exhibition (‘Colour’) and the adjoining nighttime event (‘Sound’), held at Mash House, took place on 24 October. The afternoon of the exhibition, the sky was spotless and the air breathtakingly icy. So to hear the thud of live music rolling along the cobbles and to see the steamed-up windows, promised the glowing pulse which could be found in every fold of the event. 

I was directed to ‘George, in the grey trousers.’ George Marriott and Eliza Rennie, her co-founder, are fourth year students at St Andrew’s University. The duo spied a unique opportunity to bring the work of young artists together and thus began northstreet.collective. Their insistence that ‘everyone is so helpful’, that students understand everyone will muck in on the day, was either modesty or false modesty. I’m still not quite sure. 

What struck me about these two, and the powerful raft of (predominantly female) team members who make northstreet’s exhibitions happen, was the drive to share their platform with as many creatives as possible. George’s description of the event as ‘multi-disciplinary’ was clear in the music, the rack of unapologetic leather jackets emblazoned with political angst and the variety of art along the walls and tables. 

George and Eliza’s excitable patter about their struggles and their successes were both powerfully motivated and motivating. But these women, students or not, would be just as comfortable talking you through the latest pieces at the Gagosian or the Saatchi. And I wondered to myself, as I listened to northstreet’s trajectory, whether they were this self-assured and professional when they arrived at St Andrew’s for freshers. Perhaps, or perhaps not, but their endeavour will continue beyond university, they tell me. 

It’s true, we create art and literature because we don’t have to. But at university we have to write our little hearts out in the hope of leaving with a certificate in our hot little hand. northstreet.collective is an example of how handling the necessary – the rigmarole of getting degrees in History of Art that is – can give rise to the brilliant unnecessary. 

northstreet.collective is, on so many levels, a celebration of doing something just because you can and you should. While this group of talented undergraduates seem to have cornered a market, I very much hope we’ll see some more first-class procrastination of this type in other universities before long.