David McGillivray

Professor, interested in events, culture, digital participation & sport.


Creating Creative Scotland: The Dilemma

Yesterday, I attended a workshop hosted by Scotland’s National Events Agency, EventScotland, at the MacDonald Holyrood House Hotel in the shadow of the Scottish Parliament.  The event was titled Homecoming Legacy: The Road to 2014 and was designed to raise awareness of the Year’s of Focus which are already underway and will provide a structure for the events industry up to 2014 when two Gold Standard events bring international attention to Scotland (Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles). In this post I offer a commentary on the Year of Focus concept and what this tells us about the way we think about events and festivals in the current period.  I will focus specifically on the Year of Creative Scotland (2012) and the problematic notion of Creating Creative Scotland through an overly structured, state interventionist approach. 

First, some information about the Years of Focus.  There are four of them – Food & Drink (2010, though ongoing to March 2011), Active (2011), Creative (2012) and Natural (2013).  Each year is meant to give the ‘industry’ (mainly tourism, I think) the opportunity to showcase Scotland’s unique and, it is argued, authentic assets to the wider world – in the process create new partnerships (and collaborations) between agencies that would never have thought to work together before.  All of this makes perfect sense, especially in a period of economic turbulence where money is tight and working together is likely to be more fruitful than competing for the same (small) funding pot.  However for me it is the way these year-long celebrations are planned, structured and communicated that causes some concern.  Let’s take the proposed Year of Creative Scotland as an example.  The proposed benefits of coordinating activity around a themed year include greater tourism promotional possibilities, reduced seasonability (because the norma ‘gaps’ will be filled with signature events and other funded events) and the opportunity to ‘encourage’ collaborative working which will leave sustainable structures thereafter.  However, I’m concerned that these themed years can actually drive out innovation and squeeze the sort of activity that will lead to sustainable outcomes. Let me explain. The main attraction of the themed years is the promise of additional funding to create new events or enhance existing ones. Yet, evidence from the Homecoming 2009 celebrations suggests that there was a significant level of discontent generated by the allocation of funds.  Many existing event providers felt that they were overlooked in favour of new events which were only ever likely to have a short lifecycle.  The ‘unintended’ outcome of this sort of policy decision is that the more organic (and place specific) events which reinforce a sense of place identity find it difficult to amplify themselves enough to capture the attention of internationally-facing place marketing agencies and, therefore, fail to secure sufficient ownership of the ‘year’.  If the Year of Creative Scotland is to be effective, then I think a number of things need to be in place:

  1. Existing cultural excellence needs to be exploited (perhaps to the point of international standard) and made to feel a central plank of the year
  2. Newly commissions or events need to work with existing cultural producers where possible and grow their capacity as the long term legacy will more than likely come from those already committed to the cultural sector in Scotland
  3. The new connections secured (albeit with some difficulty and acrimony) around the London 2012 Cultural Programme in Scotland need to be maintained as to do otherwise would send a negative message to the Scottish cultural sector

I could go on, but at this stage in proceedings (there’s still a full year to go) it is suffice to say that the creative and cultural sectors need to be fully engaged now.  Oh, and let’s involve the HE sector in Scotland – surely a hotbed for creativity?


David McGillivray • February 22, 2011

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