Radical change and power shift demanded to tackle 'fundamental’ arts inequalities in Edinburgh

Radical change and a power shift are needed to tackle "fundamental inequalities" across Edinburgh's arts sector, new research has found.

Monday, 14th February 2022, 4:55 am

The city’s cultural institutions are being urged to put in place more “safeguards and support” for grassroots organisations and freelance workers to help address long-standing concerns.

A restructuring of the cultural sector is being suggested to tackle “power imbalances between cultural gatekeepers and the more vulnerable workforce in the sector”.

The Edinburgh University-funded study suggests greater collaboration within the cultural sector would help challenge “existing systems of power in order to create a more level playing field”.

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Edinburgh University's Old College Quad hosted shows during the 2021 Edinburgh International Festival. Picture: Ryan Buchanan

However, the researchers, Morvern Cunningham and Vicki Jones, said it was "vital” for those in cultural power to initially recognise and accept the existence of "deep-seated problems” within their sector.

The study has emerged from a summit on the future of culture in Edinburgh, which was staged at Leith Theatre in September, after the city’s festivals returned in scaled-back form.

The event heard calls for robust rules to be put in place to ensure people working at events like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe are treated better.

Separate research, which has emerged from a Fringe Future initiative, said the festival had suffered from a “growth mindset” and a constant pressure to expand, which had let it to become harder to manage.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society believes this year will see a 'renaissance' of the event. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The Future Culture Edinburgh research, which was funded by the university’s funded “Futures Institute,” said: “There is a sense that, with shared responsibility and accountability from all stakeholders across Edinburgh’s cultural sector, steps can then be taken towards significant action and implementing fundamental, but incremental and sustainable change, at a deep structural level.”

In a further blog post, the researchers said: “In order to redress the current power imbalance within the arts in Edinburgh and beyond, our findings tell us some kind of radical change within the sector is necessary.

"It is vital for those in cultural power to openly acknowledge and accept the existence of fundamental inequalities within the sector itself.

“For 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 implementing fundamental change at a deep structural level.”