Brian Ferguson: Maintain momentum from Desire Lines

There is a need to capture the creative energy that is bubbling under the surface in Leith. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
There is a need to capture the creative energy that is bubbling under the surface in Leith. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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SO MUCH food for thought was served at Edinburgh’s Desire Lines arts summit that it has taken the best part of a week to digest it.

As an event to kick-start debate and discussion on how to take the capital’s fractured cultural scene forward, it was undoubtedly a success.

Speakers were brutally honest in their verdict on how the city is helping or hindering the work of artists and arts organisations – but were also remarkably upbeat and forward-thinking.

Of course, there were the inevitable gripes about the council’s restrictive noise policies, dire warnings about the prospect of funding cuts and pleas for the city to offer the same level of support for the arts all 12 months of the year that it does in August, when it seems “anything is possible”.

But there was also much to inspire, especially from architect Malcolm Fraser, with a timely reminder of why its setting makes the Edinburgh Festival so uniquely special, and journalist Neil Cooper, who recalled exactly what the city’s grassroots arts scene has managed to achieve, right up to Young Fathers’ recent Mercury Prize-winning success.


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What actually subsequently emerges from the Desire Lines project is the crucial thing, of course. There is already a sense of expectation that change is on its way, which is perhaps a bit premature.

The proof of the pudding will be whether all the positive noises emerging from the city council are matched by deeds and significant additional funding being earmarked for the arts, no easy task in a climate of cuts.

But I can’t have been the only one who left thinking of what could be achieved if the spirit of the event could somehow be harnessed; if it were to inspire regular open forums and if the politicians and council officials in the room are serious in their intentions.

Perhaps the most tantalising glimpse of the future was that of a vibrant and visible cultural scene being established in Leith before long.

It was cited as an area where a strong grassroots hub was taking shape, but there is little evidence of this as you walk down Leith Walk or around the waterfront area, which has been largely abandoned since it was cut adrift from the tram project, while former venues lie empty and boarded up.

There is a pressing need to capture the creative energy that is clearly bubbling under the surface in Leith and use it to kick-start the wider revival that the waterfront is crying out for.

More immediately, some firm commitments from the council to the much-discussed Leith theatre and museum projects, as well as stable funding to ensure Leith Festival is an event worthy of the name by next summer, would at least be a start.


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