Edinburgh Green Tease Reflections: Social Sustainability with Out Of The Blue

1st October 2014

On Monday 29th September, our we held our fourth Edinburgh Green Tease, this time focusing on the potential social impacts of the arts. We heard from Rob Hoon, manager of Out Of The Blue Arts and Education Trust, about their extensive history of community engagement.

This month’s meeting examined more fully how the power of the arts sector can be harnessed to enable social good, improving the lives and environments of individuals and the communities they exist within. There has long been discussion about the positive benefits of cultural participation in the arts: increasing cultural and social capital and improving the communicative links within a society, as well as ensuring economic capital for the sustenance of various livelihoods. Although sustainability is often viewed as synonymous with environmental actions, the traditional three elements of sustainability comprise of environment, economy and society.

Out Of The Blue has been consistently affecting these three elements over its 20 year history, and despite a change in venue 11 years ago.  As a result, it was a particularly appropriate place to provoke a discussion on the role and responsibility of the arts to their surrounds. The event took place in the Cutting Room of the 1901-built, Rowand Anderson-designed Drill Hall: an ex-military building purchased from the Territorial Army and refurbished by the organisation with a strong environmental sustainability ethos.

To start the Green Tease, Rob gave us an overview of Out Of The Blue’s motivations for their community work. He explained how the multi-arts organisation is required to justify their social value to their range of stakeholders in order to secure operational funding and legitimacy. Charity status and activities, contribution to health and education, economic benefits and environmental impact are all considered and addressed by the organisation, and given precedence alongside their initial artistic purpose.

Rob went on to detail a few examples of their initiatives aimed at young people – one of the community groups for whom they aim to be a significant resource – including the Youth Arts Hive and their Community Cafe. ‘The Hive’ builds on Out Of The Blue’s history of engaging young people in participatory cultural activity, partnering with various arts and education organisations as part of Creative Scotland’s Youth Arts Hub/ Time to Shine initiative, whilst the cafe is an on-site skill-training programme for members of the local community. 

As the group discussion developed, too did our understanding of what a more socially sustainable arts sector might look like: we explored the impact of permanence (in location and concept) as being distinctly affecting to the success of social projects, but commented on the frequent short term, project-based nature of the arts sector, and how these might be reconciled.  It was suggested that “dipping-in is damaging” when considering social value initiatives, both to the initiative and to the individual unable to witness the outcome of their efforts. We talked about changing the mindset of organisations working in arts sector: how they explain and justify themselves in their immediate area, and what timescales they theorise on when attempting to address inequality, social cohesion and cultural participation. Members of the group also drew from experience working in organisations and artistic venues where staff turnover could prevent successful efforts, suggesting that maintaining continuous knowledge transfer and establishing an educational platform for the transmission of sustainability are paramount to the longevity of ideas and actions.

The two hour discussion also expanded outwith the Edinburgh setting, with members of the group sharing their knowledge, involvement and problems they have encountered when attempting to address sustainability. We learnt of art accessibility projects in rural Finland, where emphasising the affordability of art promotes sustainable livelihoods and increased cultural appreciation and participation. Too, we discussed the repercussions of withdrawing musical support in prisons, and the involvement of cross-medium artists in the research gap surrounding social sustainability.

The evening left the group questioning how the arts can impact across their community and inspired by the work of Out Of The Blue so far!

Our next Edinburgh Green Tease will be announced shortly, be sure to check our News pageFacebook and Twitter for up-to-date information and our Instagram for more event photos. Feel free to post your own Green Tease reflections using #GreenTease.

Image: Alastair Cook: The Land and The Sea at Out Of The Blue Drill Hall, © Chris Donia


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