What I Learned at the Culture Summit in Community

Lauren Ross who is a member of two of our co-design groups Youth Arts Voice Scotland (YAVS) and the Heritage Blueprint group attended the Edinburgh International Culture Summit’s first ever Youth Programme. Here are her thoughts on how it all went:

“At one of our residential’s earlier in the year, six of us from the co-design panel Youth Arts Voice Scotland (YAVS) were invited to take part in the Edinburgh International Culture Summit. We would be joining around forty other young people from the UK and abroad who have been especially involved in advocating culture through their various activities. Together, we would create the summit’s first ever Youth Forum.

Even though we said ‘yes’ before we knew much more about it, I think it’s fair to say that the experience we had of the culture summit surpassed all our expectations. Not only did we quite literally sit in the place of ministers for three days in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament, listen to countless insightful talks and meet an incredible amount of inspirational people, we also got the chance to speak our own thoughts on an international stage and be heard.

I came away uplifted, moved, proud, inspired and motivated to increase my own involvement in culture and make a lasting impact on the world through it.

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These are just some of the things I learnt

  • Leadership can be acting as someone else’s catalyst: inspiring or encouraging them to achieve their goals. If you think someone is on to something, don’t be afraid to openly support them if believe yourself just because no one else is doing so. Have courage and you might just help to popularise a new craze!
  • Heritage, as a key element of culture, is not just the past, but the present as well: how we live today in different parts of the world.
  • Heritage is not just historical events and royal connections, but everyday living before all this. That’s what separates heritage from history. Unlike history, heritage finds value in the seemingly worthless: kitchen tools, shoes, children’s toys. But, arguably, it is these things more than battlefields and kings that represent our real identities, both national and personal.
  • There are ‘tangible’ and ‘intangible’ forms of culture: tangible culture being something that is physical (e.g. buildings or paintings), and intangible something that isn’t, such as spoken language and even dance. In terms of heritage and record-keeping, intangible culture is under just as much - if not more - threat as those facing physical damage visible to the naked eye. In many countries, as one spokeswoman pointed during at the summit, family recipes are passed down orally through generations and rarely written down, as are stories of family genealogy. We must find creative ways of safekeeping these cultural assets before they become lost forever.

As well as having the opportunity to listen to and engage with a number of engaging speakers from around the world, I - as well as other members of the Youth Forum - received the chance to give a short three-minute speech in the closing plenary. As well as YAVS, I am also involved in another co-design group called Heritage Blueprint working to engage more young people in the work of the National Trust for Scotland. I attempted to express my belief that the reason many young people aren’t engaged in heritage comes largely down to communication:

Heritage is simply a collection of stories, and a good story is of interest to everyone - it is the most vital part of the books, films and conversations we all enjoy. Heritage, therefore, needs the support of good storytellers. And who are the best storytellers? Artists. So I called for a stronger connection between the arts and heritage in order to further youth engagement. The arts can help immerse you in the stories heritage tells, instead of holding you at an inscrutable distance, as it can often seem. ‘Why should I care about heritage?’ A good question, and one not easily answered; but art has the potential to.

The benefit of co-design

Being a member of two co-design panels, I took the opportunity to give mention to my experience of them as well, as they have made a huge impact on me over the last two years. I've received countless invaluable opportunities, my work ethic has been nurtured and rewarded, my confidence and communication skills developed, and I have been brought into contact with amazing people - some of whom are now good friends. What’s more, it has led me into securing my first career-starting job in an area I know and love. In no other way would I have found myself where I am today - or, indeed, where I found myself two weeks ago, and addressing cultural leaders from over ninety different countries worldwide.

If the summit was anything to go by, I have great confidence that there will be many brilliant developments in the culture industry in the near future. With so many passionate and dedicated young people and inclusive, prestigious platforms such as the Culture Summit through which to connect, discuss and grow, great work is ahead on an international scale in the unbeatable form of co-design.”

Find out more about the YAVS.