A Decade of Connection: 10 Years of Creative Edinburgh

As Creative Edinburgh celebrates its tenth birthday and its annual awards show, we take a look at why the organisation was started, and how it has evolved

Feature by George Sully | 08 Nov 2021
  • Creative Edinburgh Awards

Creative Edinburgh now boasts a membership of over 5500 individuals and organisations based in and around Scotland’s capital. Its year-round programme of events, workshops and networking opportunities supports creatives of all levels, and the annual awards shine a spotlight on the amazing work they produce. But it took a lot of effort – and careful stewardship by the past decade’s various directors – to get to this profile within the city.

While the organisation had existed in a looser form since 2008, 2021 marks ten years since it took on its first director, Janine Matheson, who shaped many of its principles and ambitions.

“I was keen to hear what this organisation would do to support me as a creative that lives here,” Matheson recalls when pitching for the job (she was running the not-for-profit gallery Sierra Metro at the time). “And I remember going to the meeting and feeling like it needed some kind of push from a more grassroots perspective, someone that was hustling.”

Collaboration has been fundamental to the organisation from day one, as perhaps exemplified by the fact Matheson initially shared the director position with Lynsey Smith, now a programme manager at the British Council. In that first year, “we had three words that we connected to everything that we did: unite, inspire, promote.” 

These values also formed the basis for the very first Creative Edinburgh Awards, which was a chance to not only celebrate its members’ efforts in a fun way (“We were surrounded by all these business awards and we thought they're just completely not how I want to celebrate creativity!”, says Matheson), but to also celebrate the growth and survival of the organisation itself.

Matheson remained director until 2016, when the organisation had submitted its first application for Regular Funding to Creative Scotland. Yasmin Sulaiman was the next permanent director to then run Creative Edinburgh in the wake of winning this funding.

“I was starting at a time that felt like a new chapter in a lot of ways, because as an organisation we felt that we'd been given legitimacy by the industry,” she says. But joining the ranks of the RFOs didn’t compromise the community-based vision of the organisation. “It was a really good time to build on that grassroots movement that Janine started.”

As Sulaiman succinctly summarises: “There's two main parts to Creative Edinburgh. There's the part where you make friends, and there's the part where you get work. And those two bits intersect very neatly, and they're both equally important.”

CE has seen a number of directors at the helm in its decade of facilitating creatives. But arguably none have faced the breadth of existential challenges that the organisation’s newest leader, Ola Wojtkiewicz, now faces. Namely, the COVID-19 pandemic, a post-Brexit creative sector, and the looming fireball that is the climate crisis. 

But she is unfazed; her ambitions are bold, comprehensive and far-reaching, but Wojtkiewicz recognises the work involved. “This is not going to be a short run, it's going to be a marathon,” she cautions. “But I'm definitely up for it and have loads of energy and ideas and look forward to the process.”

This also doesn’t mean the grassroots ethos has been forgotten – in fact, Wojtkiewicz hopes to decentralise some of Creative Edinburgh’s work. Which is to say, “take our services and our offering in terms of, for example, mentoring or events to places on the outskirts of the city to tap into those communities, who may not be able to travel to the centre or have the confidence to do so,” she explains. “Because creatives are based everywhere.”

Like working with WHALE Arts, for example – a 2020 award nominee and winner of 2016’s Social Award – who are a community-led arts charity and social enterprise based in Wester Hailes. Indeed many of Creative Edinburgh’s award winners and nominees reflect the organisation’s aspirations, be they social, cultural, commercial or environmental. 

Established in 2018 by Alycia Pirmohamed and Jay G Ying, the Scottish BAME Writers Network – which 'provides advocacy, literary events and professional development opportunities for BAME writers based in or from Scotland' – won 2019’s Social Award and were nominated for the Student Award. Similarly, The Leith Collective houses over 130 artists all working together to promote their work, sustainability and support for their local community, and have been nominated numerous times. Sara Thomson, founder of the collective, is also a COP26 Climate Ambassador for the ‘One Step Greener’ campaign and recent recipient of the Prime Minister’s Points of Light award.

SPLINTR, a multidisciplinary design studio and workshop also based in Leith, won 2020’s Commercial Award for their Safe Server – an ingenious, simple and practical solution for retail and hospitality businesses needing to trade safely amid COVID restrictions.

This year has seen Creative Edinburgh’s highest number of awards applications to date, and “it's quite heartwarming to see what people have been up to over the last year,” says Wojtkiewicz. And as in CE’s first year, it’s as much about the big exciting projects as it is about the smaller (but no less meaningful) hidden gems. 

Matheson, meanwhile, continues to be in touch with the organisation and its annual awards. “I just saw the nominations for this year and they're really brilliant,” she says. “So I think whoever wins, everyone's very deserving.” 

The Creative Edinburgh Awards 2021, 18 Nov, 7-9pm http://creative-edinburgh.com/awards/2021