Edinburgh International Culture Summit: Russian attacks on Ukraine's cultural history dominate talks – Angus Robertson MSP

Edinburgh has not just been at the centre of international artistic life during its many festivals.

A Russian soldier climbs stairs at the Mariupol drama theatre, hit on March 16 by a Russian airstrike (Picture: Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)
A Russian soldier climbs stairs at the Mariupol drama theatre, hit on March 16 by a Russian airstrike (Picture: Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)

The Scottish Capital has also been hosting a top international culture conference, bringing together decision-makers, artists, art sector leaders and young people from around the world.

The Edinburgh International Culture Summit involved 26 in-person delegations and five hybrid delegations representing 31 countries with culture ministers from Europe, Africa, the Americas, the Middle East and Asia.

Senior officials included Dr Maria Rosario Jackson, the chair of the US National Endowment for the Arts, and representatives of the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organisation (Unesco) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

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Set against the backdrop of the Edinburgh festivals and building on the success of previous summits, the 2022 Edinburgh International Culture Summit met for the first time since 2018, in a dynamic forum for developing arts and culture policy.

Delegates took their seats in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament, which hosted the event and discussed three key themes: culture and freedom, culture and education, and culture and sustainability.

On culture and freedom, discussions were heavily influenced by the tragic events in Ukraine with delegates hearing from Ukrainian Minister for Culture and Information Oleksandr Tkachenko about the assault on Ukrainian culture by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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First culture summit hailed as a success by participants

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Ukrainian novelist, poet and essayist Oksana Zabuzhko talked about the Russian attack on Ukraine's cultural history, and showed images of how the mosaics of Mariupol have been destroyed by Russian forces.

On culture and education, delegates heard from cultural leaders including the virtuoso violinist Nicola Benedetti, who will become director of the Edinburgh International Festival, Deirdre Quarnstrom of Microsoft, Andreas Streicher of the OECD, and the talented movement artist Ofelia Balogun.

Discussion centred on the unique role that the arts can play in education curricula and explored how the creative and collaborative skills attained through cultural practices develop skills and learning habits essential to life in a cosmopolitan and digitised world.

On culture and sustainability, participants discussed how to imagine and create global solutions for a sustainable future. Delegates listened to excellent presentations from Dame Meg Taylor of the Pacific Islands Forum, Mini Girgis of the Nile Project and many others.

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In addition to the core Culture Summit programme, there were additional discussions focussed on partnership with Australia. It was an honour to lead the Scottish delegation to the summit and to discuss cultural cooperation with my Australian Culture Minister colleague Tony Burke and Lord Parkinson from the UK Government.

The bi-annual Edinburgh Culture Summit has established itself as a premier world-class event for cultural dialogue. Arts decision-makers from around the globe joined the summit in the Scottish Capital because of the importance of culture to all of our lives.

The event itself has been a successful collaboration of five partner organisations: the Scottish Government, the UK Government, the British Council, the Scottish Parliament and the Edinburgh International Culture Foundation.

We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to all who have been involved, especially Foundation programme director Sir Jonathan Mills and his talented team, as well as the late Sir Angus Grossart without whose inspiration, leadership and generous support the Edinburgh International Culture Summit would not be the success it has become.

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Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary