Festivals, Cultural and City Events

Edinburgh: 2020 Reflections

Summer 2020 brought an unexpected set of challenges unlike anything we had ever expected to face. The city was quiet, forced into silence by Covid-19 and bereft of its usual summer festivals and the social, economic and cultural benefits they bring.

2020 Reflections Interviewees

The Festival, Cultural and City events team pivoted to digital, developing new skills in doing so, bringing together hundreds of people to celebrate the value of culture through an online series Edinburgh Culture Conversations delivered in conjunction with the Edinburgh Futures Institute, which remains up online as a resource for students, researchers, and policy makers. It also provides a fascinating insight into world-class cultural leaders and their response to the pandemic over this period.

Across the University, others were similarly initiating and supporting festivals and cultural activity for the City. We’re pleased to share this collection of reflections with you which illustrate some of the ways the University of Edinburgh has supported cultural life in the city this year, some very human experiences of working during lock-down, as well as reflections on what we would have been doing had Coronavirus not struck.

A common thread across all of our pieces is a sense of longing for gathering and liveness. In Talbot Rice Gallery’s Director Tessa Giblin’s words: “no matter how much I appreciate all the efforts that have gone into virtual experiences, digital platforms, screens and streams, I have also learned about how much I deeply and addictively love the experience of art in the real – exhibitions, performances, concerts....These are the experiences I yearn for.”

There can be no doubt that cultural engagement will change in the future. We’ve become more digitally confident over this period and artists are finding imaginative ways to conceive, create and connect using AI and new technologies to experiment and explore. An exciting project to watch out for is The New Real, The New Real presented by the Edinburgh International Festival and curated by Drew Hemment, Edinburgh Futures Institute Chancellor’s Fellow and Reader.

At the same time, all of our conversations this summer evidence that the strong human urge for shared cultural experiences is unlikely to go away. If anything, the desire for festivals and live gatherings will be more powerful than ever in the wake of the pandemic, especially once a vaccine is rolled out that enables events to once more to be delivered safely.

Thank you to all of our contributors for taking the time to write these pieces. We hope you will enjoy reading them.

Janet Archer

Director of Festival, Cultural and City Events

2020 Reflections

Tessa GiblinDirector, Talbot Rice Gallery

Shona Black - Conference and Events Manager, University of Edinburgh Business School

Melissa Terras - Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage, University of Edinburgh's College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Stuart Dunbar - Engagement Manager, University of Edinburgh's College of Science and Engineering

Gwen Orr - Festivals Coordinator, Festival, Cultural and City Events

Patricia Erskine - Head of Stakeholder Relations,  University of Edinburgh's College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences