Edinburgh International Culture Summit 2020: Special Edition: The Transformational Power of Culture

  • Stories from around the world will clearly demonstrate the transformational power of culture as told by artists, economists, educationalists, strategists, architects, medical scientists, philanthropists and Ministers of Culture.
  • The Summit will consider ideas and perspectives embedded in our cultures that can support new ways of life required to deal with Covid-19 as well as examining the challenges to culture across the world.
  • The Edinburgh International Culture Summit opens its digital doors to everybody with free online access. From 22 August.

Ordinarily the Edinburgh International Culture Summit, delivered in partnership by the British Council, Scottish Government, UK Government, the Scottish Parliament and the Edinburgh International Festival, would welcome people from around the world to the Scottish Parliament in August, alongside the backdrop of the Edinburgh Festivals. This year it is not possible to present the Summit in that format.

However, on 22 August the Summit will launch a Special Edition online in which a fantastic range of contributors from around the world will bring their voice and expertise to three areas of discussion – Culture and Education, Culture and Social Cohesion and Culture in Vibrant Communities.

In a series of films, podcasts and interactive panel sessions, contributors from across the spectrum of the arts, economy, education, architecture, medicine, philanthropy and Ministers of Culture all from around the world will come together to examine the powerful role, and transformational potential, of culture in key aspects of our lives and particularly in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ultimately, the Special Edition highlights the importance of a vibrant cultural sector in sustaining resilient and open societies and examines how access to artistic practices and spaces transform peoples and nations.

Culture and Education

As governments and educational institutions grapple with how to adapt to our new reality, what could the future of education look like? Engaging experts from multidisciplinary fields—from music to neuroscience, epidemiology to economics—the Special Edition presents a growing body of social and scientific research on how culturally rich experiences enhance skills such as empathy, language, memory and creativity, and examines the importance of these skills in reimaging a post COVID-19 world. In this strand, distinguished speakers and remarkable young musicians come together in performance and conversation, investigating how education systems and arts organisations can work together to unlock and invest in human potential.

This strand includes Assal Habibi, Assistant Research Professor of Psychology, University of Southern California; the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles; Sistema Scotland; Dr Daisy Fancourt, Associate Professor of Psychobiology & Epidemiology, University College London; Andy Haldane, Chief Economist, Bank of England; and Daniel Lubetzky, Founder and Executive Chairman, KIND & Empatico.

Culture and Social Cohesion

In a time of physical distance, how can art provide connection, inspire hope and help us heal? The Special Edition reflects on the power of art in times of crisis and the role of a trusted culture sector in reimagining the future. Showcasing artwork that embodies resilience, we explore lessons from the past, listening to and learning from collective memories and stories. The global nature of this pandemic unequivocally reminds us of our similarities while simultaneously exposing global inequalities. By directly engaging artists and specialists dedicated to tackling inequality, displacement and prejudice, this strand focuses on the importance of international cooperation and cultural understanding.

This strand includes David Strathairn, Performer of Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski, Georgetown Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics; Cynthia Schneider & Derek Goldman, Co-founders of Georgetown Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics; Dr Leah Pisar, President, The Aladdin Project; Andrew Gilmour, Executive Director, Berghof Foundation; The Trojan Women Project; Elif Shafak, Author.

Culture in Vibrant Communities

As people across the world shelter in place, we begin to lose touch with the physical structures and markers of everyday life. What are the places we miss and what are the policies, funds and infrastructure required to sustain those places? The Special Edition re-examines our understanding and organising of cultural space, looking at the future of cities and how health and social factors impact design. With renowned guest speakers from across the globe, this strand invites participants to consider a holistic approach to architecture and reflects on the post-pandemic power of galleries, museums, performing arts centres and libraries to rebuild trust and preserve cultures.

This strand includes Dr Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, The Library of Congress; Farrokh Derakhshani, Director, Aga Khan Award for Architecture, Aga Khan Trust for Culture; Cameron Rashti, Director, Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, Aga Khan Trust for Culture; Clara Miller, President Emerita, Heron Foundation; Tristram Hunt, Director, Victoria and Albert Museum; Rahul Mehrotra, Architect and Professor, Harvard University.

In addition to the themed areas of discussion the Summit Special Edition will also share Special Messages from Venezuelan superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel; Secretary General of the European Festival Association, Kathrin Deventer; Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker; the Egyptian Founding Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the new Library of Alexandria, Ismail Serageldin; and Bulgarian politician and the former Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova.

The Summit will also hear from Ministers of Culture across the world as they face the challenges of a post/ongoing Covid-19 environment.

Sir Jonathan Mills, Director of the Edinburgh International Culture Summit Foundation said: “As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on peoples and countries across the world continues, the Edinburgh International Culture Summit has taken the difficult decision that its 5th edition, planned to happen this August at the Scottish Parliament cannot proceed as originally planned.

The Summit’s Partners – the British Council, Edinburgh International Festival, Scottish Parliament, the Scottish & UK Governments –  all continue to advocate strongly for the power of culture to unite peoples and to transform lives and societies, even in the most challenging of circumstances.

Which is why I am delighted to announce a Special Edition of the Summit to be launched and available free online from Saturday, 22nd August.

Join us as we journey from the Kumbh Mela Festival on the banks of the River Ganges to the Al-Azhar park in Cairo. We visit a dance company in Brazil and Youth Orchestras in Scotland and Los Angeles. We travel from Washington’s Library of Congress to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. We hear the voices of Trojan Women echoed in Syrian refugees from Glasgow and are reminded that art endures beyond the moment of its creation.

When the global impact of decades of normal economic and social behaviour is being so abruptly overturned, this Special Edition of the Edinburgh International Culture Summit will consider what ideas and perspectives embedded in our cultures can help take us beyond our current predicament.”

Culture Secretary of the Scottish Government, Fiona Hyslop said“The coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for people across the globe but the power of culture to connect even in the most trying of circumstances is still compelling. As artists face enormous challenges around the world, the Edinburgh International Culture Summit can still meet virtually and bring people together in a digital format.  

“Scotland’s cultural reputation is recognised on the world stage and our power to convene is a great asset. Hosting the fifth edition of the Summit digitally will provide a much needed platform for international participants to discuss the challenges of these uncertain times and be heard by an audience from across the globe.  

“The Special Edition offers a unique opportunity for bridges to be built and strengthened and for discussions on the use and value of the arts, culture and the creative industries and their role in encouraging dialogue among nations in our global recovery from Covid.”

UK Government Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Throughout the pandemic we have seen the immense power culture has in bringing people together, and its irrepressible spirit despite the serious challenges covid presents.

“This year’s Culture Summit will be online and open to the world for free, and I’m glad that the show will go on.

“This government stands by the arts and has shown our commitment with a £1.57bn rescue package – the biggest ever one off support for our amazing cultural organisations and institutions.”

Sir Ciarán Devane, CEO British Council adds: “Providing opportunities for people and organisations from around the world to learn and share with their counterparts is at the very heart of what we do at the British Council. While we can’t physically come together in Edinburgh this year, I am delighted the International Culture Summit is taking place and will have an innovative digital programme for us. 

“The challenges triggered by the COVID19 pandemic are global and are enormous. Culture, heritage, and education will play a vital role in helping communities face them. I am very much looking forward to this special edition of the summit and to the lively discussions and exciting ideas sparked by the sessions.”

Fergus Linehan, Festival Director, Edinburgh International Festival said: “The Edinburgh International Festival was founded against a backdrop of global upheaval.  It proposed that our problems were best solved collectively and that creativity and an understanding of each others cultures were key to this.  August 2020 will be the first summer in 73 years that our city will not play host to our annual festivals.  We are delighted, therefore, that, through its digital edition, the Culture Summit will be celebrating the values of co-operation, friendship and creativity that we all aspire to.”

The Presiding Officer at The Scottish Parliament, The Rt Hon Ken Macintosh said: “The importance of our cultural landscape has become even more apparent as the current crisis has developed. The manner in which we access culture might have changed, but being able to engage with art, theatre or music will have been a small piece of normality for many, in what have been difficult and trying times.

“This year’s summit will provide a chance for us to consider how we ensure that this vital and vibrant sector can continue to be a source of joy and stimulation for so many people. 

“I am delighted that the Scottish Parliament is once again a key partner in the International Culture Summit and that we continue to play our part in promoting creativity and artistic expression.”

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