Having so much going on culturally is a good problem to have. But nonetheless, it’s a problem Aberdeen needs to solve, writes Andrew Youngson
Aberdeen’s sense of cultural pride has suffered some rough knocks in recent years.
When a bid to be named the UK City of Culture 2017 failed in July 2013, many people in the region took the news badly. Paired with “winning” last month’s accolade of “the most dismal town in Scotland” in the annual Carbuncle Awards, it’s understandable why some north-easterners feel the Granite City may be losing its shine.
However, research carried out as part of the 2013 bid revealed a bubbling pot of creativity in the region’s cultural sector is just waiting to be capitalised on further. In particular, the many festivals which run throughout the year act like a robust spine, propping up our cultural calendar beautifully. An ideal solution to raising the visibility of our cultural endeavours lies in learning how to flex that spine, limber up and launch on to the dance floor.
“The region and the people are not always good at shouting about how great they are,” said Angela Michael.
As Aberdeen Festivals manager, she is at the forefront of renewed efforts to showcase how strong an offering Aberdeen city and shire has for lovers of art, music, dance, theatre, science and all the other genres within the cultural spectrum.
The north-eastern proclivity for hiding lights under a bushel is one small factor which needs addressed, she explained. But there is another issue which is equally pressing.
“We’re lucky in this region to have such great jazz, and theatre music scenes, plus things like a great built cultural heritage. So we have all these real assets, but it’s difficult to articulate how much there is here, and the message can be confused.
“Is this a great city to visit for built heritage? For the coastline? Or for the small independent galleries, of which there are many? Or is it for the live music? The answer to all of that is ‘yes’. But the difficulty is how to put that message out there in one big sentence. It’s quite challenging when you have so many good things happening, and the message can become confusing because everyone is saying how great their little bit of it is.”
Stepping into the breach to add a little clarity is Aberdeen Festivals, a major new cultural initiative to highlight nine of the region’s major festivals – Arts Across Learning Festival, Aberdeen Jazz Festival, May Festival, Aberdeen International Youth Festival, The Fifty Plus Family Festival, North East Open Studios, TechFest, DanceLive and Sound.
The remit of Angela and her collaborators is threefold: to promote and market the festivals outside and within the city; to help grow and maintain audiences locally, nationally and internationally, and to strengthen the region’s cultural sector. Through a combination of digital marketing, a 16-page brochure, TV, radio and print advertising, plus outside branding, at local, national and international levels, the Aberdeen Festivals initiative aims to bring the region’s cultural calendar dancing into the light for local residents and visitors to the city.
It’s a wide field of work, but maintaining this overarching view, as
opposed to meddling in the perfectly effective way the festivals
are running already, is key to their approach.
Angela continued: “All the festivals have their own marketing tools and ways they do things, but what we’re trying to do as a group is market the whole festivals package. Whether it’s dance, jazz, visual arts and more, we’re trying to market that whole package. We’re saying that there’s something here for everyone, and that there’s something really unique and bespoke about our festivals.”
Attempts at a cohesive promotional initiative have never been made in this way before, she explained, although unsuccessful endeavours were made in the past.
“There was nobody employed to lead that collaborative activity in the city. So very busy festival directors and chief executives were expected to do it on top of their own work, to become this linchpin and deliver this additional activity that I’m now doing,” she said.
Almost one year into the role, Angela feels energised about the future direction of Aberdeen Festivals. And that passion seems shared by the initiative’s constituent groups. Their collective vision is clear: the region’s cultural pride can be helped back on its feet if they work together.
“What the area seems to suffer from is the perception that nothing ever happens here. Or that we are not culturally diverse or vibrant. But that’s just not true. And I think there’s an awareness in the cultural sector that we need to push forward our strengths in the city,” she said.
“So, 50% of our effort is to promote the festivals, increase their audiences by making them sustainable while opening them up to new audiences, but the other half is to get the city recognised as a more culturally vibrant place to live, work or visit.”
To find out more about the Aberdeen Festivals Collective, visit www.aberdeenfestivals.com
ABERDEEN FESTIVALS IN 2015
Arts Across Learning Festival, February 23 to March 20, www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/community_life_leisure/arts/CreativeLearningTeam/ArtsAcrossLearningFestival.asp
Aberdeen Jazz Festival, March 18-22, www.aberdeenjazzfestival.com
May Festival, May 29-31, www.abdn.ac.uk/mayfestival
Aberdeen International Youth Festival, July 24 to August 1,
The Fifty Plus Family Festival, September 1-11, www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/tourism_ visitor_attractions/50PlusFestival
North East Open Studios, September 12-21,
TechFest, September 12 to October 2, www.techfestsetpoint.org.uk
DanceLive, October 9-20,www.dancelive.org.uk
Sound, October 22 to November 9,www.sound-scotland.co.uk