Culture manifesto calls for artists to get greater access to Edinburgh's venues and empty buildings

Artists and performers in Edinburgh would be given more year-round access to venues and unused buildings under a new blueprint aimed at overhauling the city’s arts and cultural sector.

Monday, 12th April 2021, 7:00 am
The Usher Hall is one of Edinburgh's biggest performing arts venues. Picture: Ryan Buchanan

The “Edinburgh Reimagined” manifesto calls on cultural institutions and businesses to agree to provide space to Edinburgh-based “creative freelancers” for little of no cost.

The city council is being urged to carry out a comprehensive audit of all available space in the city and encourage its use for cultural activities, as well as adopted a “can-do attitude” throughout the year and not just in Augustm to address an “ongoing dearth of accessible space” for artists.

The manifesto recommends a shake-up of boards running arts bodies and organisations to ensure there is “diverse representation that audiences are keen to see on screen and on stage.”

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Edinburgh's summer festivals attracted an audience of more than 4.4 million in 2019. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic

Produced by freelance creative producer Morvern Cunningham, and inspired by months of talks with artists and organisations in the city, the manifesto calls on the council to instigate a new cultural strategy for Edinburgh to respond to the impact of the pandemic.

Cunningham warns that without “fundamental change across the board,” Edinburgh’s cultural sector is facing a “looming hellscape,” claiming that the while millions of pounds have been pumped into cultural institutions “precious little” support had trickled down to independent artists and freelancers.

She writes: “If a global pandemic which shuts everything down overnight and then continues to keep things closed for 12 months and more isn’t the impetus for starting again with care and love and the power of hindsight, then frankly, I don’t know when is."

Cunningham, founder of the Leith Late festival, said the city was in a similar position to the one it found itself in more than 70 years ago when the Edinburgh International Festival was instigated and it was recognised “that art and culture were a means to healing a broken and exhausted society."

Morvern Cunningham

However she said that if the city went back to how it was before the pandemic it would retain a flawed system that was “unhealthy from its roots.”

She adds: “A radical shift in our value systems and the support structures that uphold them is required in order to generate a tangible change in the way cultural activity is expressed in the city.

“This isn’t the job of any one person or entity to address, we all have to be willing to do the work in order to collaboratively achieve a better balance of cultural power going forward. The work of change is for all of us.

"The recalibration required will only be achieved through fundamental change at all levels. It’s not about ripping up the rule-book and starting again.

“Even the smallest of actions can lead to larger systematic changes down the line, generating a ripple effect across the whole of the city with the potential of improving our systems immeasurably.

“We no longer find ourselves in a build back better scenario, but instead one of rebuilding.

"Let us rebuild a city of care, one that values its people first and foremost, one that nurtures its grassroots arts and community activity, that is committed to representation at each and every level, promotes health and well-being above any other model and that includes everyone in discussions about the future of their city."

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