The news on Sunday that the Scottish Government have awarded Eden Court further emergency support of £800,000 elicits many feelings, but mostly relief.
This investment from the Scottish Government, delivered through our colleagues at Creative Scotland, is simply a life-line. If we had not had confirmation of this support this month it would have been my corporate duty to recommend to Eden Court’s Board of Directors that we initiate, in February, a programme of mass redundancies in order to protect the business from facing insolvency in the summer 2021. I don’t need to do that now and the relief is immeasurable. 91% of our workforce is still furloughed, this is not uncommon in the performing arts. There is a small team of nine of us running Eden Court at the moment and I hope that goes some way of demonstrating how devastated our business has been over the last twelve months.
I refer to the new funding as investment because that is how we will consider it. An investment in our future, in the recognition of the role that Eden Court plays in the cultural life of the people of the Highlands and Islands, and in our ability to carry the weight of that trust very carefully, to put it to good use, to protect jobs, to support artists, protect our extraordinary three-century spanning building and to continue conversations with audiences and participants in whatever way we can.
Last Friday we provided an update to Creative Scotland on how we have used our Performing Arts Venues Relief Funding. In addition to using those resources to avoid insolvency and protect jobs we have provided 34 freelance artist contracts to enable us to deliver projects including our Christmas Tree, our Spirit of Panto’ Film, projections onto our building and in our work with the Freelance Taskforce. Additionally, since closing last March we have honoured 15 contracts to freelance artists whose projects were cancelled.
We had planned, through December, January, February and March to employ many more. As the only venue of scale in Scotland in Tier 1 we had worked tirelessly at the end of last year to curate a programme to restart live performance on behalf of the entire country. It felt like a huge responsibility to get going again and to demonstrate that theatres in Scotland could reopen safely for live audiences with all the COVID mitigations in place. Alas, we have had to, again, un-produce, and unravel all those plans due to the latest lockdown. That has been incredibly hard. As soon as we can, we will re-start live performance. It feels important to do so, to provide work, especially to those in the freelance community.
I commit here today to continuing to do that as transparently as I can to ensure all those in Scotland who have stage-ready work are able to be in touch with us and share what they have to offer. I have also been doing a lot of listening, a lot of reading and a lot of reflecting about how we can be better at ensuring opportunities for freelancers in our sector are more widely shared and that recruitment is fair and open. We'll be better at that this year.
Looking to the future, for many years the sector in Scotland will have known us predominantly as a receiving house. The truth is though that Eden Court has been engaging artists for decades. These engagements have been predominantly through our community and socially engaged work and we are very proud that this is the case.
We have reflected that the pandemic has propelled this work in a slightly new direction that excites us, and points to a potential future strand to the artistic vision for our organisation.
Back in the summer, when the world was reeling from the events of the Black Lives Matter movement, we embedded an artist in our response by commissioning Jacqueline Briggs to create the centre-piece of an installation that took the banners from the peaceful protest on Ness Bridge. We were delighted our response formed part of the Scottish Mural Trail.
At Christmas we asked Theatre Designer Kenneth MacLeod to design the artistic vision for our Christmas Tree. Our tree was lit with over 3000 lights, in recognition of over 3000 people who, in November, had died in Scotland as a result of Coronavirus. We paid special tribute to those lives lost in the Highlands with each light that illuminated the star on top of the tree.
What we have recognised, through these artistic commissions, is that they have enabled our community to process, debate, and reflect. The power of that feels huge to us but also potentially a future direction of travel: socially engaged, world-event (and local-event) responding artistic experiences that surprise, delight and challenge. This feels like a natural direction of travel for us because in many ways we feel Eden Court has been doing it for a long-time but perhaps now we have the confidence, the will, the expertise and the drive to do that more openly and more collaboratively.
We will also continue to co-produce and invest in fantastic creative ideas that help us to deliver our mission to bring the world to the Highlands and the Highlands to the world.
Only time will tell what the long-term impact of the pandemic is on the cultural sector and every person who works in it. It’s fair to say though, from the telephone calls, the WhatsApps, the texts and the DMs, that for the last few weeks, just like for many other industry sectors, it’s felt gruelling, at times impossible, at times like it’s all spinning out of control – again.
I know for many in our industry our news will elicit all sorts of feelings, especially for those who still face an uncertain future. I know this because over the last, nearly, twelve months I have felt all of those feelings as I learn of other colleagues, individuals and organisations news. It felt important to acknowledge, and face that today.
As I look forward to the year ahead with this renewed stability I’m mindful most of the one thing I do know (and right now I feel like I know very little). It’s that the very future of the performing arts in our country, in the Highlands, in Inverness, likely lies very firmly in the hands of that very special relationship between artists and audiences.
Thanks to this new support from Government our charity will, again, re-open our doors. When we can, we need the best diverse, small and big, intriguing, boundary-pushing and popular work on our stages, on our screens and in our studios but most importantly of all we need people to come and support this work.
This precious symbiotic relationship has never felt more critical to our future success.
We promise to be ready, to be as safe as we can, and to work collaboratively with those in the rest of the sector, those on the stages, and those in our communities to rebuild, renew and thrive.
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