Questioning cultural leadership

Who do you depend upon to make your role in the arts possible? Who looks to you for support? What form of change would you most like to see happen – and who can help you bring it about?


Photos: Graeme MacDonald

On The Edge posed these questions to a diverse group of artists, researchers and organisers at the first event of its new AHRC investigation, Cultural leadership and the place of the artist, on 14th March at Woodend Barn, Banchory. Each question was approached through the viewpoints of a range of archetypal roles: artist, funder, teacher, policy maker, board member, parent, venue manager, volunteer.  We built a network in miniature of the relationships and forms of influence through which our actions are shaped in aesthetic, organisational and social contexts.  Opening up issues of leadership in culture beyond the operation of hierarchies, we tried to understand the interplay between policy and practice; artist and institution; individual and structure; action and influence. Among the discussions that followed we introduced the ten-year trajectory of On The Edge research from The Artist as Leader onwards and tested ideas for the new project.

This work looks to extend engagement with the research amongst artists and policy makers in the UK and Europe, testing the ways in which they relate to (and depend upon) each other.  Wider questions on which we want to reflect include: what is the purpose of cultural policy in an unpredictable world?  How and why should artists become involved with its development?  Is there such a thing as autonomy in our complex cultural networks? What is the public role of culture in current national and international contexts?

IMG_9509Some of the discussions from the half day workshop in Banchory will be shared on this site in coming weeks as we prepare for our series of full day seminars in Edinburgh, Brussels and London this summer.  These events will involve our full network of partners (Creative Scotland, The Clore Leadership Programme and ENCATC). We invite further responses and dialogue from everyone interested in these questions throughout the process.

We are grateful to Woodend Barn for hosting our first event and supporting it strongly through participation from board members, staff and friends (thanks particularly to Margaret Coutts, Lorraine Grant, Fiona Hope, Mark Hope, Gerry MacDonald and Graeme MacDonald).  We are also indebted to a number of artists from different parts of the country who made special efforts to attend, including Jacqueline Donachie, Anne Newling, John Newling and Ros Taplin. Our own newly appointed artist in residence, Rosanna Irvine, also contributed, as well as Gray’s PhD researcher and artist Maja Zeco.  Their perspectives were complemented by those of Gary Cameron (Aberdeen City Council), Duncan Cockburn (Robert Gordon University’s Director of Policy) and Clare Hewitt (Creative Scotland). On The Edge research was represented by our core project team of Anne Douglas, Chris Fremantle and Jon Price, based within Gray’s School of Art at RGU.


  1. […] attended our pilot event in Banchory (March) before contributing to the research seminars in Edinburgh (May), Brussels (July) and London […]

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