Could Scotland create its own equivalent to Netflix or Spotify to showcase its culture to the world? – Brian Ferguson
It was a cold Saturday afternoon when I ventured back inside Leith Theatre for the first time in over a year.
But I soon felt a warm glow of familiarity at being back inside a building which had become firmly re-established in the cultural life of the city when it reopened after a 30-year hiatus in 2017.
A Second World War bomb blast, threats of demolition, a gradual fall into disrepair, a proposed sell-off by the city council and a community campaign to keep it as a public asset are all part of its rich history.
They all came back to me as I wandered around a venue which somehow seems to epitomise the ancient motto of the port of Leith – persevere.
Exactly a year after the first restrictions were imposed on live events, Leith Theatre, one of hundreds of venues forced to close to the public, is about to launch its first in-house music event.
Due to be broadcast online over the next three Saturday nights, Live in Leith has been filmed without a live audience, but is hoped to have a global reach.
When I visited dropped in on a recording day last month it had effectively been turned into a film studio and the Leith Theatre Trust had effectively become broadcasters in the face of adversity.
I can vividly recall Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, trying to explain to me the huge challenge he had set in trying to do the same in time for last August.
By the end of the festival, Barley was convinced there would be no going back to the old model of an event which saw all his guests and audiences arrive in Edinburgh’s west end.
By the end of January, he was announcing that it was relocating for good from Charlotte Square Gardens to Edinburgh College of Art due to the “tectonic shift” in the way that events could now reach audiences.
No longer, it seems, will authors have to fly from the other side of the world to appear at the festival, or book lovers have to be in Edinburgh to hear from their favourites.
Meanwhile the National Galleries has just announced that it has created a virtual experience out of one of its exhibitions – devoted to Hollywood special effects expert Ray Harryhausen – for the first time in its history, echoing moves by several commercial galleries over the last year.
Of the hundreds of stories I’ve written reflecting the changing face of Scottish culture, one last week struck me as the most fascinating.
An official report recommending options for the Scottish music industry to deal with the impact of Brexit, inevitably encompassed concerns about the climate crisis and prolonged travel restrictions.
Among the most interesting proposals were the idea of Scotland having a network of live streaming hubs in venues across the country and the creation of a dedicated Scottish streaming platform, to emulate the success of services like Spotify and Netflix.
Given all that has been achieved, at a time of huge crisis for almost every cultural organisation in the land, perhaps the real prize would be to embrace the new opportunities technology has unlocked and turn these ideas into reality to create new ways of showcasing every aspect of Scottish culture.