Community Engagement Manager at Edinburgh Art Festival
I’m the Community Engagement Manager for the Edinburgh Art Festival. I’ve been in this role since February 2020. I work on a year-round programme of activities, make sure people across Edinburgh can access the city’s amazing exhibitions and spaces, and can get involved with contemporary art and the commissions we do. I organise trips, workshops, activities and projects, often working with local Edinburgh artists to deliver workshops with schools and different community organisations, making relationships and connecting them with the Art Festival. Currently we have a special focus on Wester Hailes, working in partnership with the art centre and community hub WHALEArts, making sure all the diverse voices that make up Edinburgh feel the Festival is for them, that the Festival belongs to them. I work to introduce them to what we do and build creative confidence through visiting exhibitions, producing art, trying new artistic techniques and meeting artists and specialists. In doing so, we are working towards a major community public art commission over the next year in Wester Hailes.
What do you enjoy most about working for the festivals?
As I work on a year-round programme of activities and projects, I suppose for me it feels as if the Festival never stops! It’s fantastic to work on a year-round programme specifically for Edinburgh’s communities and groups, and to see how this long-term development and relationships can inform what we see, do and participate in when it comes to the August Festivals season.
This is a new role for me, but I used to work at Summerhall as the curator, so I have a long history of festivals behind me.
I love the dynamism we can bring by working together, we work so hard all year round to see these amazing things realised. It brings such internationalism to the city, but also helps local audiences see amazing work. I love the team spirit and how well we work together to put on these complex and meaningful exhibitions and events.
What is your favourite festival memory?
There’s always the worry of whether the art and installation materials going to turn up on time! They always have, but sometimes just in the nick of time. There’s been plenty of hairy moments where everything’s on a knife edge. But by working together – and praying to somebody up there! – we manage to make it happen.
I have very fond memories of working with Herman Nitsch, the performance artist. He brought a team of his own technicians over from Austria – and his own wine! Giant bottles of it.
What makes you proud to be a Festival City citizen?
I think what’s amazing about the Festival is that it showcases and brings alive the city, it draws out the eccentricities of Edinburgh. I’m proud to share the history of the city, these amazing spaces are brought to life and recontextualised for audiences. I’ve been away for a few years so I’m sad not to be able to have my re-introduction to the Festival city. The high street feels so quiet, it’s a very different atmosphere. I’m worried about the businesses and organisations that make up the city. I hope we can use this period to try and find ways of being sustainable and making sure we support freelance artists, making sure the Festivals are for the people of Edinburgh as well as its visitors.
We’ve used this time to really build connections, we can only look forward to the future, but we’ve been able to have a lot of in-depth Zoom conversations with different organisations and groups to see how we might work together in the future. On the 30th July we launched our month-long summer programme, marking the dates of what would be the Festival. The programme comprises of archival and new work, with live and online performances and videos, and across the city a series of posters by artists and Peter Liversidge’s ‘Flags for Edinburgh’ project. His project inviting organisations and communities across Edinburgh to send a collective greeting to each other and the wider world by flying a flag from their rooftop of flagpole. The programme focuses on works and responses by artists that relate to the pandemic – for example, how people have moved home, the desire for closeness, grief and healing, sustaining community and societal transformation. Throughout lockdown we have been co-producing DIY Art creativity kits with artists, which give insight into an artist’s practice and show you how to make your own unique artwork. For example, Peter Liversidge’s ‘HELLO Postcards’ art pack urges people to reach out and say thank you to people who have played an important role in the pandemic by posting mail art HELLOs, corresponding to his Flag project. Next up in this series, we’re creating an online art tutorial for kids, with one of our summer programme featured artists, Glasgow-based artist Tamara MacArthur, focussed on creating your own set design and storytelling.
It’s been challenging to find new ways of working, but by adapting we are finding new ways of working with people, and sustaining dialogue and engagement with communities.