Eden Court Theatre has been rewarded for its efforts during the pandemic when it converted its main auditorium into a humanitarian aid centre.
During its closure in lockdown, the Inverness venue used the stage and 850 seats in its Empire Theatre to collect around 1,000 food parcels each week.
Working with Highland Council these were then distributed to people shielding across the Highlands by a team of volunteers.
Eden Court also set up and staffed a helpline for vulnerable people using the box office phone system and delivered creative activities for children.
It is now one of four UK arts organisations, and the only one in Scotland, selected from more than 260 submissions to receive the inaugural Award for Civic Arts Organisations by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch), in partnership with King’s College London.
The award supports a growing movement of arts organisations reflecting on their relationship within their communities and wider society. The four recipients were chosen for “surpassing their usual roles, adjusting their practices and missions using bold and imaginative ideas which served their communities in ways relevant to them”.
James Mackenzie-Blackman, Eden Court’s chief executive, said of the £25,000 award: “At the beginning of the pandemic, when the very future of our organisation looked in doubt, an opportunity arose to form a unique relationship with the Highland Council.
“Within days of closing our doors Eden Court staff pivoted to new roles delivering the humanitarian and emergency response to the crisis.
“From turning our theatre into a humanitarian aid centre, to the delivery of an emergency helpline using our box office system to supporting teaching and learning in key worker hubs, colleagues from ushers to senior managers rallied.
“We are humbled and honoured by this recognition. The funds will go a long way to further embedding Eden Court into the civic life of our community.”
Don Robertson, Eden Court’s chair of the board, added: “The pandemic presented enormous challenges but also provided new opportunities for Eden Court. I am extremely proud of all of the Eden Court staff who utilised their skills to assist with the critical humanitarian efforts in the Highlands. Congratulations to all award recipients who responded in multiple valuable ways.”
Highland Council convener Bill Lobban said the authority is honoured by the well-deserved award.
“Eden Court staff were invited to support the delivery of Highland Council’s resilience response, using their special skills in partnership with the council.
“We are grateful for their support in these challenging times, to help minimise the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our communities.
“We value the impact of arts and culture on our communities in normal times and in the Covid19 crisis, the resilience and inventiveness of the Eden Court workforce has shone brightly.”
Andrew Barnett, director of the UK branch of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, said the award builds on the “sea change” in the arts sector in recent years, with a growing number of organisations reflecting on their relationship with society.
“The foundation’s work on the civic role has demonstrated the need for arts organisations to work more closely with their communities if they are to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world.
“At this difficult time, this principle feels even more important. I hope that the sector will take inspiration from these wonderful examples of the civic role that arts organisations can play, and incorporate the lessons into their plans to build back better.’
Eden Court, a registered charity, is the largest multi-arts venue in Scotland housing two theatres, two cinemas, two dance studios and conference and meeting spaces. It attracts an audience of more than 300,000 every year.
In December, it issued a special two-minute production performed by panto stars who would normally be performing to thousands during the festive period, to thank supporters during the pandemic.