World’s arts leaders fly in for Scotland’s ‘cultural Olympics’

Paul Mashatile joins Lesego Motsepe and Hlengiwe Lushaba Madlala and poet Samkela Stamper
Paul Mashatile joins Lesego Motsepe and Hlengiwe Lushaba Madlala and poet Samkela Stamper
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FROM the culture minister of South Africa to Abu Dhabi’s head of arts, cultural leaders from around the world are boosting their ties with Edinburgh’s “Olympian” festivals and making the case for public support for the arts in a time of austerity.

The UK Culture Minister Ed Vaizey was speaking to delegates from nearly 40 countries yesterday who had gathered in Edinburgh for the world’s first International Cultural Summit.

Praising the work done at London 2012, he said the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies “told the world about the importance of creativity”.

Speaking of the Edinburgh International Festival, he said that with 3,000 different performances from 47 countries in August, “it’s effectively the cultural Olympics every year”.

The event, the brainchild of the Edinburgh International Festival director Jonathan Mills, has a guest list ranging from the Russian Federation’s culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, to the chief executive of Creative New Zealand, Steven Wainwright.

While there has been some private scepticism over what the gathering, hosted at the Scottish Parliament, will achieve, the European commissioner for education, culture, multilingualism, sport, media and youth, 
Androulla Vassiliou, staged a fierce defence of public funding for the arts.

“What can the bureaucrat offer the poet?” she asked. “What regulation will inspire the composer?” She said the example of publicly funded television or cinema across Europe providing some of the best and most exciting drama, music and comedy proved that “public intervention, and public money, is behind success.”

She added: “Whether we like it or not, our societies decided long ago to organise the arts and cultures. We have decided that culture represents a public good in which every citizen has a stake. The question remains how to provide public support while respecting the intimate privacy of the work of creation.”

South Africa’s minister for culture, Paul Mashatile, yesterday celebrated the nearly £250,000 his government has put into eight shows in an award-winning season of plays in the Fringe this year from classics from the apartheid era to stellar contemporary productions such as All the Girls in Their Sunday Dresses. It is part of a three-year programme.

He said: “Let’s grow the number into 2013 and particularly into the run-up to the Commonwealth Games in 2014. If artists don’t have opportunities or events to perform they can’t make a living,” he said. “We want more and more of these opportunities going forward.”

He was impressed, he said, that the Edinburgh festivals offered street acts, which were “people friendly” and “not just events in big public spaces”.

The summit opened yesterday with the Makar, Liz Lochhead, reciting Robert Burn’s A Man’s a Man for A’ That to the assembled delegates in the parliament chamber, while the Scottish Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop quoted a letter from William Wallace alongside Shakespeare’s words that “the man that hath no music in himself” cannot be trusted. She invited the visitors to “experience Edinburgh at the height of its cultural season”.

The agenda for the summit will range from “cultural diplomacy” by using the arts to boost understanding between cultures and nations, to sustaining public and private support for culture in a time of austerity and the use of technology, a favourite theme of Mr Vaizey’s.