Chris Creegan is Chief Executive of the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability. He was previously Director of Corporate Affairs and Deputy Director of Qualitative Research at NatCen Social Research. Chris has written widely on equality and social justice issues. Chris has a long record of involvement in public life. He is currently Chair of Trustees at SAMH, the Scottish Association of Mental Health and was Chair of Trustees at Scottish Adoption from 2008-2015. Chris is a keen runner with Edinburgh AC and writes a personal current affairs blog which can be found at http://www.chriscreegan.com and on Twitter @Chris_Creegan
I have lived in Edinburgh for 14 years; it is the place I call home. But I grew up in Manchester; it was the place where I first learned the power of art.
In May, the Manchester poet Tony Walsh (2013) set a dizzyingly high bar for the capacity of artistic expression to bear witness. His poem, “This is The Place”, immediately became an anthem for defiance and resilience in the face of unspeakable horror. As I listened to Walsh recite his poem on the steps of Manchester Town Hall, my sense of home was challenged more profoundly than I could ever have anticipated. And that is what art must do.
As Walsh spoke, his accent, tone, and delivery, were all unmistakably Manchester. The story, the sentiment, and evocation were all irresistibly Manchester. Defiant but warm, he was resolutely Manchester.
The barbarity of the Manchester bombing speaks to a new found twenty-first century decadence World War II was supposed to have eliminated. Edinburgh’s festivals have borne witness to our changing world in the last seven decades. The Edinburgh International Festival (2017) was created to provide “a platform for the flowering of the human spirit” in the aftermath of the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century.
Since 1947, the depth and breadth of artistic expression which has flourished here has provided testimony to far more than the city itself. It has come to define Edinburgh the world over. So as the EIF turns 70, how does it speak of, and to, the world? How does it honour the past while gazing to the future? And how does it do so while being authentically Edinburgh?
The clues to all these questions are to be found in Walsh’s words. His poem proved universal in a city stunned by murder which was intended to divide. It resonated where the well-intentioned but pompous rhetoric of political expression could not.
The poem inspired communion because it provoked but also soothed. It transcended the time and place of its reading, bridging the local and the global.
Walsh could not change what had happened. But he could, and did, speak to how we might respond in the aftermath. “Choose love”, he said.
Walsh’s was a masterclass in bearing witness. And now it is over to you, Edinburgh.
Walsh, Tony. (2013) This Is The Place | Forever Manchester poem. <https://longfella-tonywalsh.bandcamp.com/track/this-is-the-place-forever-manchester-poem>.
Edinburgh International Festival. (2017) Standard life opening event bloom: A platform for the flowering of the human spirit. <https://www.eif.co.uk/2017/bloom#.WS1ze9y1vIU>.