News > VAPB2018: Strengthening links and encouraging diversity of voices

VAPB2018: Strengthening links and encouraging diversity of voices

Strengthening international relationships within and beyond Europe and encouraging a greater diversity of voices was the theme of the International Producers’ Breakfast 2018 (VAPB2018), which took place on Thursday, 23 August, in Edinburgh during the festivals and the Culture Summit. The event, presented by Visiting Arts in partnership with Creative Scotland and the Edinburgh International Festival, has become an important annual event gathering 200 cultural professionals. This year saw participation from the USA, Canada, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, Finland, South Africa, Morocco. Delegates were encouraged to invite young arts leaders to attend in celebration of Scotland’s Year of Young People 2018 campaign. There was also great representation from the Deaf community working in the arts.

Edinburgh International Festival Director Fergus Linehan welcomed delegates and offered three observations on the current state of and shifts within the arts scene. Surrounded by the set for the National Theatre of Scotland’s production Midsummer – a play which demonstrates that it’s never too late for any of us to change – the panel emphasised the increasing importance of being connected and outward facing more than ever amidst shifting geopolitical landscapes, funding strains and global conflicts. ASEF summarised: “During these fragile times, a united and collaborative arts sector has the power to encourage mutual understanding between cultures and communities. Reducing obstacles to cultural mobility, and breaking down barriers of equality, diversity and access should be a priority of all.”

Panellists included:
Fatima Avila, Project Executive (Culture), Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), Singapore
Hakan Silahsizoglu, Founder and Director, Atta Festival, Turkey/ UK
Mairi Taylor, Executive Producer, Birds of Paradise Theatre, Scotland

Moderated by:
Christiana Bissett, Founder, The Doing Group, Scotland

Visiting Arts was also delighted to be invited to attend the Culture Summit 2018 whilst in Edinburgh, where Culture Ministers, artists, thinkers and arts leaders from around the world were brought together to share ideas, expertise and best practice, with a view to inspiring positive change in cultural policy and investment. The theme of ‘Culture – Connecting Peoples and Places’ allowed for constructive discussion, providing evidence for the value of arts for health and wellbeing, exploring investment in culture, and the challenges and opportunities of today’s networked world.

News from the delegates:
In September 2018 300 delegates from over 40 countries gathered, along with hundreds online, for Unlimited: The Symposium to discuss the future of disability-led arts. You can watch the recorded sessions and read the discussion round-ups via the Unlimited website. Add your voice to the debate using #UnltdSymposium on Twitter.

Jih Wen Yeh, Executive producer Step Out Arts, also works for Bedford Creative Arts who are looking for collaborators in Europe for their Refugee / Detainees cross artform project.

Listen to the VAPB2018 panel discussion here/ read the summary below:


See photos from the event on Facebook. Photography by Robbie Jack.


Thanks for hosting us in Edinburgh; it felt a really productive morning and I was able to meet a handful of professionals.


As always, it’s been a bit of surprise – while I spoke to some people specifically about the shows our project has on the Fringe, I also had a very interesting discussion about audience data gathering with a new contact…


We’re all in the similar situation… funding reduction, venues closing down… but we’re survivors. We keep the discussion and hopefully find the right way to hand over the better future for our next generation.


It has been really helpful especially for us. We are emerging artists. Brand new. Those people are generous with their time and advice… I am determined to make deaf festival happen one day.


I had the opportunity to connect with artists whose shows I had seen earlier in the week. Relaxed environment to meet folks.

Fergus Linehan shared 3 key observations on reflection of planning the Edinburgh International Festival and looking at the current global landscape: 

  1. Ways of working in response to the challenging financial situation and generational shift in how our protocols and hierarchies exist. Increasingly work is made through building a constituency of support and collective creativity.
  2. The potency that the arts has at present in political dialogue. The creative industries seem to have picked up a greater interest and engagement at a high level than has been seen in a long while.
  3. As a principle, that government funding will continue to decline should never be accepted. Things are changing and financial support is coming from different places with different priorities but we need to become more robust in our arguments about funding and question what that might look like in ten years time.

In this day and age of changing geopolitical landscapes, funding cuts, and so on, it is even more important that we know each other, talk to each other and that we remain connected – Fatima Avila, ASEF 

Fatima Avila talked about the unique way that ASEF is publicly funded by voluntary contributions through 53 ASEM partners, created by an informal political dialogue forum with 6 strategic areas including culture. They promote diversity as a common thread for all their country partners. On the topic of funding limits for their mobility grants she noted their strategy that a benefit for a few can in turn become a benefit for many by supporting applications that embody the role of the arts, artists and society. She referenced the Culture Summit’s 2018 theme of wellbeing as an important area where the arts can make a difference.

Hakan Silahsizoglu mentioned the crucial role certain international networks such as ISPA have played for him – allowing him to travel and work internationally on projects and encouraged him to initiate the Atta Festival. He talked about Turkey’s political situation, how the EU has supported Turkey on all levels including with culture and how NGO’s and government attaches are working with local partners, supporting local artists and productions. He noted how in Turkey, much focus goes to children and youth because you can change the mentality much more readily from a young age. 

Personally and individually I believe we have to do what we do best and this is the best way to bring people together, collaborate – in partnership that is very important. Whatever happens at a political level we should continue working together. – Hakan Silahsizoglu, Atta Festival

Christiana Bissett shared how the young collective she is part of work between Glasgow, LA, Helsinki, Switzerland and Austria. She commented that for them mobility has been a challenge and also a resource in being able to exchange from different places but she finds that in the arts industry mobility becomes a necessity and is unsustainable. She asked “how do we foster international relationships but continue to have foundations at home that make them sustainable career development opportunities and provide longevity?”

The panel was asked “what are the pinch points in your work and where can funding make impact?” Funding for the creation of work was said to be important. For Mairi Taylor, the concerns were where the next generation would be coming from and creating the space and accessibility for opportunities.

Mairi Taylor talked about the stability that funding brought to build strategic relationships abroad and think bigger. She spoke about the pressure around the impact they can have as a disability-led organisation but that funding gave acknowledgement that they can work over a longer period of time and that theatre work needs to be at the core of of what they do to create the impact. She noted how key partnerships are to what they do to have an impact beyond the work they are making. She stressed that there aren’t enough opportunities for young disabled people and the positive impact of programmes like Unlimited in achieving a ripple effect. She is working to get disabled artists and actors seen as being able to play any part in any piece.

On one level we’re trying to put these narratives on stage and be at the vanguard and on another really basic level – how do audiences get there, how do people dream, how do they move forward when fundamentally society is pushing them down now? – Mairi Taylor, BOP Theatre

A board member from Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival praised ASEF’s grant programme, which for a small and rural festival, impressed to funders that a large foundation was backing it’s international ambitions. He asked what can funders do best to support small scale and rural organisations who don’t normally get access to the international arena? Hakan reflected on his involvement in a new dance festival for children and young people in 40 towns in France set up by an established arts organisation, reiterating the value of partnership: “one can run a festival in a rural area but why not connect with other possible partners – a town, village, small city – everybody is stronger when you come to invite a company or are applying for funding.”.

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