Six insights on challenging the status quo

In the heart of Edinburgh’s Old town during one of the world’s largest international celebrations, we had the good fortune to spend an evening with five cultural leaders to exchange thoughts on the theme of ‘Challenge’.

As part of an annual Creative Europe reception and networking event in the Scottish capital, we were joined by an all-female panel of change-makers transforming the UK arts scene and beyond:

Left to right: Jean Cameron (Panel Chair), Creative Director of British Council’s UK/Italy 2020 Season, UK, Dawn Walton, Founder of Eclipse Theatre Company, former Artistic Director of Eclipse, UK, Emma Connors, Arts Development Manager, axis:Ballymun, Ireland, Mia Ternström, Swedish Project Manager of Keychange, Musikcentrum Öst, Sweden, Sam Trotman, Director, Scottish Sculpture Workshop, UK

Here are bite-sized highlights from these sector-leading voices to spark ideas of how you could start transforming your organisation or practice too….

1. Responding to the climate crisis requires solution-focused strategies

How can arts and cultural organisations respond to the climate crisis in their work? In what ways can all size of organisations make grassroots changes? Sustainability came through as a positive challenge for the sector, with axis: Ballymun’s participation in the solution-focused arts and climate change project Cultural Adaptations offering a template for how best to proceed. Solutions they’re implementing to tackle the climate crisis, in collaboration with cultural organisations, include working with local SMEs to create climate change adaptation strategies, whilst partner organisation Creative Carbon Scotland are designing toolkits and resources for artists across Europe. Cultural Adaptations will share challenges, successes and best practice in a 2020 conference.

2. Cross-border collaboration is rewarding

Our panellists work across over 20 countries between them on ambitious cross-border collaborations in Europe, from Italy to Iceland, requiring hyper-organised communication and project management, and long-term strategic thinking for initiatives such as Creative Europe. The UK’s political uncertainties may raise some questions about what the future brings, but the panel agreed that working with European partners sees many rewards that outweigh the challenges, such as capacity building, skills sharing, audience building and new perspectives on culture.

3. Translation offers rich opportunity for dialogue

Balancing cultural projects in several languages and countries has enormous potential for artists and audiences, but does require some extra layers of planning cultural understanding to be aware of at an early stage. “I think there’s a real challenge around translation, and by that I mean that both literally in terms of language, and also how you translate across policy contexts […] Translation is a reciprocal process and when you’ve got that dialogue going it can be really rich, and I love working on projects across Europe!” said Jean Cameron.

4. Barriers for BAME artists need to be addressed

How can we support artists, in particular underrepresented BAME artists, in the face of a culture seen through the lens of institutions? Dawn Walton identified this as a key challenge facing the UK and wider European sector. Their project Slate: Black. Arts. Now has provided bespoke support to more than 2,000 Black artists in the North of England over the last three years and continues to build an inclusive network to address the barriers that currently exclude Black audiences and artists from participating in arts and culture across Europe. 

5. Hierarchies need to be broken down

Building from this point, there were conversations around how the current cultural landscape operates, at times with the artists at the ‘bottom’ of the industry, and policy makers and institutions are viewed as elevated above this, which can be a challenge to work within. As Sam Trotman explained, in the context of their own cross-border work: “It doesn’t just break down into somebody is an artist, somebody is a participant…[There is a need to challenge] how we operate as an organisation, [and investigate] the kind of hierarchies that might be at play within the arts sector, whilst also challenging the policy makers above us who are setting the agendas and demarcating the ways people operate and engage within the arts.”

6. There’s still a way to go to achieve gender parity

Our all-female panel are cultural leaders and strong voices in the European creative industries, but as we heard, there’s a long way to go in many sectors to promote gender equality and participation. In the UK music industry, women make up just 26% of UK festival line-ups, and Mia Ternström from Keychange told us how they’re addressing this challenge in a partnership of European festivals. Hundreds of organisations have now signed up their 50/50 pledge for gender parity by 2022, with industry figures such as Emily Eavis of Glastonbury as ambassadors, helping to break down barriers.


We’d love to hear more about the challenges you see in your creative and cultural sectors, and how you’re addressing these for positive change!

Tell us @CEDUK_Culture #TRANSFORM!

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