Caroline Parkinson

The creative and cultural industries in Scotland is an ever-innovating, dynamic sector that pushes boundaries, brings the best of cultural experiences to the public and is driven by curiosity, creativity and the art of the possible.

Publicly-funded organisations and creative businesses have weathered all sorts of storms in the past two decades, yet they are still only just behind digital as the fastest-growing sector in the UK. Figures from 2021 show the creative industries generate £115.9bn for the UK economy – more than the aerospace, automotive and life sciences industries combined.

Switching to digital

The advent of Covid-19 was a significant challenge, requiring a pivot to digital for everyone, from the sole practitioner to Scottish national cultural organisations.

Data-driven, interdisciplinary centre Edinburgh Futures Institute provided support for this pivot by engaging with creative practitioners, companies, cultural organisations and trade bodies to provide skills training, advice on expertise available and funds for innovation, as well as partnering with industry on academic funding opportunities.

We created the ‘Developing a data-driven creative company’ online course during the first lockdown, and secured funding from the Scottish Funding Council Workforce Development Fund to offer subsidised and free places. It ran four times during the pandemic.

Going digital

At Edinburgh-based research and development programme Creative Informatics, the team worked to speed up the processes for awarding funding for its various entrepreneurial strands in order to support creative practitioners, and pivoted to deliver its Labs online.

We brought beta innovations from Creative Informatics’ resident entrepreneurs to the theatre and performing arts sector through partnership with the Federation of Scottish Theatre, in a series of demos called ‘Recover, Grow and Create’.

Creative Informatics formed a partnership with Voluntary Arts Scotland to create Friday meet-ups with artists and practitioners broadcasting from their studios and workshops to provide connection and reduce the isolation created by lockdowns. Together, we advocated for better freelancer data to national agencies after Covid support did not initially reach the freelance community.


Co-creating innovation

Day-to-day we supported the innovation needs and ambitions of the sector. For example, the Traverse Theatre responded to the Creative Informatics Challenge Project seeking a digital means to share their archive with their audience. Visual communications agency Cadpeople responded to the Challenge and, through a process of design co-creation, developed the model and built the ‘My Traverse’ platform.

Not only did this bring the Traverse the digital skills needed, but Cadpeople said they found the experience of working with the performing arts sector very valuable and would continue to actively engage with the sector.

Encouraging collaboration

In Spring 2022 EFI worked with Creative Informatics partners CodeBase and Creative Edinburgh to deliver the CreativeTech Scotland Gathering: showcasing multi-disciplinary creative collaborations and sharing knowledge of innovative new products, services and experiences. This full day of skills seminars, panel debates, live demonstrations and networking will return on May 26, 2023 at the University of Edinburgh.

As we move towards the EFI building opening this summer, we plan to add to our current education and research offer through student projects, developing new short courses and identifying new opportunities for industry/ academic collaboration and entrepreneurship. We will be offering EFI event spaces for creative trade body and network meetings, hosting and delivering co-created industry events and seminars. And we will be inviting creative entrepreneurs to take a desk within EFI to work alongside us.

As the sector continues to face challenges – from post-Covid recovery to the cost-of-living crisis and the impact of Brexit – collaborative skills and knowledge are key to creating new solutions. We at Edinburgh Futures Institute look forward to continuing to address the challenges, to co-create solutions and bring about positive change with and for the creative and cultural sector.

© Eoin Carey 2022
© Eoin Carey 2022

The development of our work with the sector has been informed by consultation and testing various initiatives with the Creative Informatics Cluster, and communicated in our white paper, Developing Data-Driven Innovation in the Creative Industries

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