Edinburgh International Culture Summit

Think Pieces

Introduction to Edinburgh International Cultural Summit

One experience I brought with me from Australia in 2006, when I was appointed Director of the Edinburgh International Festival, was that of programming and promoting a large-scale cultural celebration, in close proximity to an enormous international sporting jamboree; or to be specific, the challenge of mounting the 2000 Melbourne Festival of the Arts in the shadow of the Sydney Olympic Games.

I make no assumptions about any similarities between Sydney and London, perhaps even fewer between Melbourne and Edinburgh. Nevertheless, to ignore these potential challenges and opportunities would have seemed foolish.

A passing remark by Rod Kemp, Australia’s former Minister for Sport and the Arts struck a chord. He stated the obvious by observing that the portfolios of many Sports Ministers also contained responsibility for arts and culture; this is certainly the case in the UK. Jeremy Hunt is the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

The germ of an idea was forming; a reasonable assumption that many of the Sports Ministers gathered in London in late July into August 2012, to support their various national teams of athletes competing for Olympic glory, might also be able to represent their countries’ cultural ambitions in Edinburgh a few days later.

An initial conversation with Jeremy Hunt at a concert at the Queen’s Hall during the 2010 Edinburgh International Festival gave me encouragement. Subsequent discussions with the Scottish Government and British Council were equally excited. My colleagues at the Edinburgh International Festival Fringe and Book Festivals also offered support and enthusiasm. And so the idea to hold an inaugural Edinburgh International Cultural Summit on 13 and 14 August 2012, on the days immediately following the closing ceremony of the London Olympic Games took form.

This is no idle fantasy; rather a recognition of the potency and popularity of what has been built in Edinburgh as a festival city starting with the establishment of the Edinburgh International Festival since 1947.

65 years later, few cities can rival the cultural credentials of Edinburgh in August. An inaugural international festival has given encouragement to no fewer than seven other independent festivals throughout summer. Some four million from approximately around 65 different countries, flock to Scotland’s capital each year, to experience over 45,000 performances, screenings, exhibitions, lectures or workshops, and involving some 25,000 individual artistes drawn from approximately over 70 countries across the globe.

Edinburgh’s Festivals are simply the largest and most diverse cultural offering in the world. And the city itself offers an elegant and vibrant setting, for a wide-ranging, high-level conversation about culture; with government ministers and artistes able to exchange ideas and experiences in a location with so much artistic activity happening, quite literally all around them.

If the setting is ideal, the substance of this summit is of ever-increasing importance too.

We have already begun to enter a period in history where no specific culture, ideology, theocracy or politics will be all pervasive or dominant. We are now living in world in which knowledge comes simultaneously from various, divergent technological, ethical, philosophical, and above all, cultural sources and locations.

In a world which is facing monumental challenges, especially in light of a series of recent, acute and on-going economic crises, a summit focussing on mutual cultural interests and shared human values is both timely and appropriate.

With a special blend of pragmatism and optimism, the Edinburgh International Cultural Summit is being held at a time of great uncertainty, in a city that transforms itself each August into a melting pot of artistic diversity, and with the generosity of artistes and politicians from around the world who, by their presence at this summit, affirm that culture is important.

About the summit

The Edinburgh International Culture Summit 2012 will bring together Culture Ministers with prominent artists, thinkers and others responsible for formulating cultural policy. 

They will discuss how the arts enrich the lives of people around the world and contribute to the wellbeing of nations.

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  • Jonathan Mills, Chief Executive of @edintfest addresses delegates #culturesummit
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