Artists from around the world have gathered in Edinburgh as part of a new project that uses the city’s festivals to explore how the arts can connect people and cultures.
The inaugural Global Cultural Fellows programme has brought 33 people to experience the 70th year of the summer festivals and discuss the topic of cultural interests and values.
Over eight days they will attend shows at the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and the Edinburgh International Book Festival and debate the underpinning values that saw Edinburgh become a festival city.
Organised by the University’s Institute for International Cultural Relations, the Fellows come from all regions of the world and include cultural activists, artists, performers, and entrepreneurs.
The group features a dancer from Cambodia, the head of the National Theatre of Nigeria, an Australian opera singer, a Malaysian chef, and a magazine editor from Sweden.
There is a richness in being able to talk to people with different accents, backgrounds and perspectives. You get to touch the difference. And it is amazing to be challenged by them. That’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
The Fellows will attend events at the festivals linked to specific themes – such as anger and anxiety, empathy, and culture wars – before gathering to discuss their reactions.
They will see a variety of shows including Mark Thomas performing stand-up at the Fringe festival, Alan Ayckbourn's new play The Divide at the Edinburgh International Festival, and author discussions at the Book Festival.
The organisers have been genius in how they have curated this programme. It has been really rewarding and it will stay with me for a long time. The variety that the Fringe has to offer does not exist in Latin America. It’s like coming to another planet. It’s been a once in a lifetime chance. I’m glad to be here.
In light of recent fractious global events, the Fellows will discuss whether the idea of universal and shared values of humankind still persists, and if the arts can help different groups understand each other.
It’s been amazing. For the first time we have had a global conversation about what the festival does. It has been a celebration of the festival’s 70 years and its original intention – to explore cultural interests. We have created new, useful public knowledge. It’s a unique kind of knowledge. It didn’t come from scholars writing. It came from 33 people from around the world talking. All of the University should feel proud of what we have done. I hope that Rudolph Bing, the first festival director, would be proud of what we’ve done here.
After their visit to Edinburgh, the 33 Fellows will undertake projects upon returning to their home organizations and institutions over the course of their year-long appointment.
Already, networks and collaborations are appearing. Fellows from the Phillipines and Mexico are discussing creating a work based on a seventeenth century trading route between their two countries.
What will come next will be because we are making friends as well as professional networks. We’re having all these shared experiences and exploring them together. It’s not how most professional conferences go. We are in the thick of it. And any collaborations that do come out of it, come from a place of mutual trust and a shared experience, which will make it a much more fruitful enterprise.
The Global Cultural Fellows programme at the Edinburgh festivals runs until August 19.
Home page image: ©Edinburgh International Festival. Photographer Mihaela Bodlovic.