Future Culture Edinburgh, devised by Vikki Jones and Morvern Cunningham, took place on 1 September 2021 in the main auditorium of Leith Theatre and was funded by Edinburgh Futures Institute with additional support from the Centre for Data, Culture and Society.
The event grew out of an ongoing collaboration between Vikki and Morvern, both of whom have a professional interest in how Edinburgh’s cultural sector might rebuild post-pandemic. In this blog post, they introduce some of the findings from their recently published report and reflect on its significance to our cultural landscape in a post-COVID future.
Creating the space for conversation
For Morvern, a freelance creative and former cultural producer in the city, this was stimulated through their series of pamphlet writings on Edinburgh’s cultural sector which started with “You’ll Have Had Your City?” published in July 2020 and Edinburgh Reimagined: The Future Will Be Localised in April 2021. Vikki Jones is a researcher on the Creative Informatics programme at the University of Edinburgh and is completing a PhD on the communication of value and values in the creative industries. Future Culture Edinburgh forms part of Vikki’s PhD research and will feed into Morvern’s next pamphlet on the future of culture in Edinburgh later in 2022.
Future Culture Edinburgh was hybrid, with a mixture of online and in-person speakers and audience in dialogue throughout. Participants used several tools to facilitate this, including a large projection screen in the venue, Zoom functionality, the whiteboard tool Miro, and physical roundtables and virtual breakout rooms.
A focus on diverse voices
Speakers were diverse and wide-ranging in terms of their experience of Edinburgh’s cultural sector, with an emphasis on community-based and underrepresented voices, including that of people of colour and creative freelancers. Indeed, there was clear intention on the part of event instigators Vikki and Morvern to proactively give a platform to those voices who tend to be marginalised or absent from the more traditional forums of discussion.
Rob Hopkins, co-founder of Transition Town Totnes and the Transition Network and author of From What Is to What If: unleashing the power of the imagination to create the future we want presented a provocation to imagine culture in Edinburgh in the year 2030. This was followed in part two by Leah Black, Chief Executive at WHALE Arts; Rosie Priest, interdisciplinary artist and researcher; and Arusa Qureshi, award-winning writer and editor.
Each presented ideas they had published in the last year, encompassing future funding utopias, tackling inequalities at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and addressing the lack of diversity in Scotland’s cultural workforce.
In part three, speakers presented works in progress, including Morgan Currie on the Edinburgh Culture and Communities Mapping Project’s Festivals and Communities Map, and discussion points from Oli Savage and Josie Dale-Jones on behalf of the Future Fringe steering group.
Since the event, the Culture and Communities Mapping Project has published a report on their work with the festivals. For the Future Fringe steering group, the actions the group is calling for, their findings, and the language they are using to describe both of these has evolved and the final report will be published in February 2022.
You can watch the recorded event here:
- Part one: https://media.ed.ac.uk/media/1_6kwkztua
- Part two:https://media.ed.ac.uk/media/1_1ko29dz1
- Part three: https://media.ed.ac.uk/media/1_hc2uu607
- Part four: https://media.ed.ac.uk/media/1_5aympvis
Participants identified an urgent need in four core and interlinked areas within Edinburgh’s cultural sector:
- Equity – redressing current power imbalances present within the sector
- Access – increasing access to opportunities for the cultural workforce and audiences
- Diversity – increasing the range and representation of people at all levels in the sector
- Sustainability – embedded across Edinburgh’s cultural sector and beyond
Challenge and change
In order to redress the current power imbalance within the arts in Edinburgh and beyond, our findings tell us that radical change within the sector is necessary, despite acknowledging that the deep-seated sectoral challenges are inextricably linked to bigger complex societal inequalities present across the city.
There was widespread recognition that to achieve positive change, it is vital for those in cultural power to openly acknowledge and accept the existence of fundamental inequalities within the sector. It is only by listening to and honouring the experience of those at the receiving end of these inequalities, that steps can then be taken toward significant action and fundamental change. This approach would require greater accountability on the part of those cultural institutions, as well as those working across Edinburgh’s cultural sector, to actively address current inequalities.
Support the economically vulnerable within the culture sector
Data generated before and during Future Culture Edinburgh shows a vital need for increased safeguards and support for the most economically vulnerable in the sector – namely community-based, grassroots organisations and the freelance creative workforce. Cultural institutions are well placed to develop and improve new and existing support systems with groups and individuals they currently work with, alongside local and national funders and councils.
Participants told us that Edinburgh’s cultural sector would benefit from increased collaboration across the board – cultural institutions investing in increased meaningful engagement with their community-based and grassroots colleagues, or from smaller more localised creative organisations and individuals joining forces to make their collective voices heard at a higher level.
Lean into what we long for
As we enter the third year of the pandemic and with the arts sector continuing to be negatively impacted by COVID-19, this is the time for those in cultural power (namely cultural institutions and their advocacy bodies, funders and local authorities) to implement radical new positive change to enhance and safeguard culture in Edinburgh for future generations.
Creating space for discussion, like Future Culture Edinburgh, as a means for open dialogue is necessary, but this has to be with a view to action and structural change. As Rob Hopkins said during the event, rather than focus on what we’re opposed to, the goal is to instead to lean into what we long for. We need to cultivate a collective longing for the future of culture in our city, establishing that universal hope long before we set about how to get there.
Since the event took place in September, our contributors who presented work-in-progress findings have continued to develop ideas and produce outputs, and we are aware of continued conversations taking place about the future of culture in Edinburgh, as well as around Scotland, the UK and further afield. Future Culture Edinburgh and these findings are part of what we hope will be an ongoing dialogue and collaboration towards an equitable, accessible, diverse and sustainable cultural sector.