Edinburgh: Creativity To Succeed

Article published on July 8, 2014
Article published on July 8, 2014

Known world­wide for the Fringe Fes­ti­val that brings thou­sands of theatre shows every sum­mer to the city, cre­ativ­ity lives far be­yond the stage in Ed­in­burgh. Art comes to hos­pi­tals, helps chil­dren over­come ill­ness and trans­forms the lives of young peo­ple who, for var­i­ous rea­sons, have not yet found their way.

Many of us have heard about the fa­mous Fringe Fes­ti­val, the event that brings hun­dreds of the­atre com­pa­nies from around the world to Ed­in­burgh each Au­gust. But is there art be­yond the Fringe? I ar­rived in Ed­in­burgh to dis­cover how art and cre­ativ­ity moves in the lives of Scots, what hap­pens dur­ing the other months, if the Fringe is just a taste of what hap­pens in the cap­i­tal through­out the year or, on the con­trary, if the fes­ti­val is a cul­tural ex­cep­tion. What I did not ex­pect to find in the end is what I dis­cov­ered. For many peo­ple in Scot­land, cre­ativ­ity is more than cul­ture: it is a way of life, or rather, the rea­son why many con­tinue liv­ing.

Art in the Hos­pi­tal

I meet Sheena Mc­Gre­gor, a ther­a­pist, at the Cale­do­nia ward at the Yorkhill Chil­dren's Hos­pi­tal in Glas­gow, about two hours by train from Ed­in­burgh. Sheena has been ded­i­cated to art ther­apy for 15 years, a dis­ci­pline that began more than 50 years ago, after World War II in Britain. As she re­counts, the specialists began doing art ther­apy in pris­ons and hos­pi­tals with pa­tients suf­fer­ing from tu­ber­cu­lo­sis or psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems.

Sheena, who also works for an as­so­ci­a­tion called Cre­ative Ther­a­pies, spends four days a week work­ing with chil­dren with psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems, heart dis­ease, eat­ing dis­or­ders and emo­tional stress. "Chil­dren usu­ally tell you they are fine, but in re­al­ity they are not; sim­ply put, they can­not find the words to ex­press what they feel," she says. In gen­eral, these are chil­dren who can not live a life like their class­mates, which makes them feel dif­fer­ent and some­what weak. But, once you go through the doors of the Cale­do­nia pavil­ion, this changes and with Sheena, they find their great­est strength: cre­ativ­ity. "They can­not play sports or many other things that chil­dren do, but they can make art and can be very cre­ative and do won­der­ful things," says Sheena, as she shows me some of the work done by her pa­tients over the past few years. "This is very per­sonal, it is not some­thing tan­gi­ble or based on di­rect ques­tions. It is based on how the child feels, how he or she breathes or how they enter the room, and mainly, is based on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween us."

Al­though art ther­apy has a long tra­di­tion in the UK, the ex­pert ac­knowl­edged that many par­ents are scep­ti­cal of the treat­ment, which has changed over time, how­ever. "The nurses told me that my son was going through an episode of 'ex­is­ten­tial fear', but now it seems that the trea­ment is help­ing him to go and play, do crafts with other chil­dren like him, it seems that he's blos­somed," says the mother of a ten-year-old pa­tient of Sheena's. "When I pick him up from school, he is al­ways tired and cranky; but, when we come home from the hos­pi­tal, he is trans­formed, more com­mu­nica­tive, he turns off the radio and talks to me." More­over, they are the same doc­tors who rec­om­mend that par­ents take their chil­dren to art ther­apy dur­ing treat­ment to "see the dif­fer­ence; they see that the chil­dren are more con­fi­dent, less de­pressed. They are rein­vig­o­rated and more closely re­sem­ble nor­mal chil­dren," adds the ther­a­pist. "The prob­lem with med­i­cine is that it ob­jec­ti­fies chil­dren. With art ther­apy, chil­dren stop feel­ing like a 'heart prob­lem' to feel like human be­ings, cre­ative be­ings."

Cre­at­ing the path

Be­yond ther­apy in the strictly clin­i­cal sense, there are also pro­grammes that com­bine art and cre­ativ­ity with so­cial work and psy­chol­ogy in Ed­in­burgh. At The Print­works, in the east of the city, Im­pact Arts has two decades of ex­pe­ri­ence pro­mot­ing so­cial and labour rein­te­gra­tion of ado­les­cents through the Cre­ative Path­ways pro­ject. It's noon and the head­quar­ters of the or­gan­i­sa­tion is an open space and quite messy. There are traces of cre­ations every­where: sketches, mod­els, wooden planks, pieces of cloth­ing and crayons. Every four months, 30 kids be­tween 16 and 19 years-old par­tic­i­pate in train­ing pro­grammes for the per­form­ing arts: act­ing and play­writ­ing, de­sign­ing cos­tumes and sets.

While dis­play­ing a large port­fo­lio, Sarah Wal­lace, co­or­di­na­tor of the cen­tre's op­por­tu­ni­ties, she ex­plains how the or­gan­i­sa­tion works. "Cre­ative Path­ways began as a way to main­tain cul­ture and pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for young peo­ple to get a job." As Sarah ex­plains, age is the only re­quire­ment to ac­cess the pro­gramme, al­though "the vast ma­jor­ity come from dif­fer­ent or­gan­isms such as child ad­vo­cates and so­cial work­ers, as many have not been ac­cepted in col­leges or have not com­pleted their stud­ies." There­fore, Cre­ative Path­ways goes be­yond teach­ing the tech­ni­cal ba­sics of the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion; it pro­vides the nec­es­sary so­cial tools to find new mo­ti­va­tion that re­quires them to con­tinue and to help them find a job and, in some cases, re­build their lives. "We try to trans­form lives through art, which on a per­sonal level can in­crease their con­fi­dence level and self-es­teem. Art al­lows them to be them­selves and grow," delves Simaica Car­rasco, the play­writ­ing and body lan­guage tutor.

Matti is one of her stu­dents. He has a timid air and, at first glance, seems to be slightly apart from the group. But, if you give him some space, he be­gins to feel more com­fort­able and be­comes very talk­a­tive. "Most of us have a dif­fer­ent kind of in­tel­li­gence. We have an­other view of the world and it has not gone well for us in a con­ven­tional ed­u­ca­tion set­ting. We are more cre­ative peo­ple with other log­i­cal abil­i­ties." His sum­mary is so ex­tra­or­di­nar­ily clear, while en­sur­ing that the course is help­ing him to "do things that awhile ago would have been im­pos­si­ble, like pub­lic speak­ing."

Be­fore par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pro­gramme, some of these chil­dren were part of the NEET Scots, work­ing in part­ner­ship with the or­gan­i­sa­tion. This hap­pened to Ri­hanna who, hav­ing at­tended Set De­sign course, is now an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor. Ri­hanna, who left school at 15, spent more than three years with­out find­ing em­ploy­ment. "This work has re­ally helped me im­prove my so­cial skills. If you had tried to make me an­swer all these ques­tions a year ago, I prob­a­bly would have felt very em­bar­rassed. But now, I re­ally feel safer and I am able to en­cour­age these peo­ple to con­tinue learn­ing and im­prov­ing at what they do," she tells me, while still saw­ing a wooden board. A local the­atre com­pany has or­dered eight stair ris­ers is due in two days; time is short and there is a lot to do. For­tu­nately, these guys are not lack­ing the de­sire or mo­ti­va­tion.

This ar­ti­cle is part of a spe­cial se­ries ded­i­cated to Ed­in­burgh and car­ried out in the frame­work of AN EU pro­ject, in­ti­ated by cafebabel.​com and sup­ported by the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment and the Hip­pocrène foun­da­tion.