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OPINION: Culture got us through the pandemic and it can lead us to a brighter future

Gillian Easson.
Gillian Easson.

Creative workers are joining forces with communities in Tayside and Fife to come up with grass roots solutions to Covid-19 recovery and the climate crisis. Here, Gillian Easson, director of Creative Dundee, explains how the CULTIVATE programme can bring about lasting change.

My pandemic lockdowns would have been even darker and harder without music, films, books, TV, video games, virtual shows and more.

Even all those solitary walks felt more sociable with podcast voices keeping me company.

I still marvel at these forms of enjoyment, wellbeing and culture, made through the simple act of communities of people creating together.

Tiger King – one of the lockdown TV phenomenons.

The pandemic has been extremely challenging for many creative practitioners – artists, designers, makers – as a significant number are self-employed or run small businesses.

Two years of graduating art and design students haven’t been able to produce from practical workshop spaces.

Live performances were completely stopped, with only some venues just reopening.

It has been devastating.

Culture and creativity as catalysts

However, in spite of this, I’m completely inspired by creative practitioners and cultural organisations who have forged new ways to bring people together creatively, helping us express emotions and share experiences, getting us through it with our families, friends, colleagues and communities.

At Creative Dundee we believe that culture and creativity are essential catalysts for positive change.

Essential to our self-expression, they can also play a significant role in helping us think how we’re going to spend our time in future, how we re-imagine the future of our high streets, how we support mental wellbeing, and how we address challenges facing our local environment and planet.

A project at the Maxwell Centre in Dundee.

As big amplifiers and supporters of creativity, we know how important local opportunities are within the Tay region, which is geographically, socially and economically diverse.

Our region is unique and while challenges like the climate crisis will be experienced in rural and urban areas differently, one thing is constant – inequalities are most often felt by communities who have the least say.

We are thrilled to be enabling action in this space locally through our new programme, CULTIVATE, supported by Creative Scotland and part of Scottish Government’s emergency COVID-19 funding.

And we are committed to improving the lives of practitioners and communities in Scotland.

CULTIVATE will harness the skills and expertise of creative practitioners and communities to enable regional learning and sharing around being a sustainable place to live, play and visit.

Over the next 18 months, we have 12 paid commission opportunities for local creative practitioners to work with already progressive climate organisations – our community partners.

They will collaborate with local communities to research, learn, understand and co-develop creative responses to better connect and equip the community with place-based climate justice solutions.

Youth on our side

As young people are often leading the charge for change on the climate crisis and have also been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, it is critical that half the paid opportunities are made available for young creative practitioners aged 16 – 24 years old.

CULTIVATE also includes leadership training, an open programme of events, and exploring how we bring climate topics to the high street.

Our community partners across Dundee, Angus, Perth and Kinross and North East Fife are a brilliant mix.

They include a rural eco tourism destination and a charity smashing stigmas around urban poverty and reuse.

The community wardrobe at the Gate Church, Dundee.

So what will actually be created in their time together?

There’s a temptation to focus on the final goal, the end outputs. Let’s face it, society has focused on the industrial model for decades, but if the pandemic has shown us anything it is that there’s no one set route to navigate the unknown.

Community leadership, collective voice and a willingness to step up, take action and share is key.

On our way

CULTIVATE has this essence at its core, by sharing as we go, we aim to build regional understanding of how we can live better together.

Although the exact destination is unknown, culture so often points the way forward to what can come next.

With local communities steering and creating as we go, the journey to recovery is very much in motion.