Creative Scotland director Andrew Dixon: Why successful cities make creative places

Creative Scotland director Andrew Dixon: Why successful cities make creative places

The head of the replacement body for the Scottish Arts Council offers a view on the year ahead

Some of the most successful modern cities in Europe, from Amsterdam to Barcelona, Madrid to Venice, have come to be defined by their artistic and cultural lives. Likewise here in the UK there are many examples of cities that have, in their own way, used the arts and culture either for regeneration, tourism promotion or rebranding. Birmingham adopted its orchestra and ballet company and they take the city’s name around the world as a creative place; the same impact as achieved by Liverpool during its year as Capital of Culture in 2008. The fact is that culture helps define places and places define the culture of a nation.

I moved to Creative Scotland from NewcastleGateshead where the Angel of the North, The Sage Gateshead, Baltic Contemporary Arts and other cultural projects have provided some of the best cultural venues in Europe for a city of its size, redefining its post-industrial image. The Sage Gateshead, a music venue, now employs more people than the Newcastle coal industry and works nationally and internationally; it hosted the World Summit on Arts and Culture and WOMEX, the world music expo in 2005. The Baltic is set to host the Turner Prize in 2011. Newsweek ran a major feature some years ago on the world’s most creative cities and put NewcastleGateshead in the top ten, but the journey to get there bridged two decades, changes of politicians and two recessions.

As I travel around Scotland, from Dumfries to Dunfermline, Skye to Orkney, it is clear that culture is already one of Scotland’s major success stories. Cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow make a huge contribution, through their festivals and events, to promoting Scotland’s brand internationally. They are dynamic, creative places attracting people to live, work, learn and visit. Without doubt, they are amongst the most important cultural cities in Europe.

A perfect example of a city that is re-defining its identity through culture is Dundee. Dundee Rep Theatre recently won the TMA Award for Best Musical Production in the UK for their show Sweeney Todd. Dundee Contemporary Arts is a thriving, much-loved local centre for uncompromising contemporary visual arts at the heart of the city, while festivals such as the recent NEoN Digital Arts Festival break new ground and reach new audiences. The vision to establish the V&A in Dundee offers the opportunity to re-invigorate its waterfront and build Dundee’s growing reputation in the visual arts, design and games fields.

Through Horsecross Art’s Home and Away project, the city of Perth is using culture, place and heritage as a central part of is anniversary celebrations. Further up the country we see Ullapool, a model of how passionate people make places work, with galleries, bookshops and creative businesses lining its streets.

In the current financial climate, the real challenge for cities will be to find creative ways of financing and effectively securing their cultural activity for future generations. The question I am asking with places and local authorities across Scotland is: ‘what role do you play in a creative Scotland?’ Our culture defines who we are, where we are and our contribution to the world. Everywhere has a unique contribution to make and Scotland has so much to be proud of.

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