It’s the end of my first month with the University of the Highlands and Islands, based at Shetland College UHI in Lerwick, although in the past four weeks I’ve spent as much time off the islands as on, visiting other parts of UHI’s 12000 sq mile turf (and from the air quite a lot of is indeed turf, wonderful stuff that it is).
The diversity of the landscape, from the voes of Shetland to the expanse of Culloden moor or the sandy beaches of Harris to the rolling hills of Perthshire, is matched by the wide variety of campus size and disciplinary focus.
The Creative Industries courses at UHI span from traditional music and contemporary performance practice to textile design and fine art in buildings dating from the 19th to the 21st century. On Thursday I visited the brand new Inverness College UHI Beechwood campus on the outskirts of Inverness, nestled alongside the health science cluster associated with Raigmore hospital and the site of a new digital excellence facility which will offer a wide range of businesses and practitioners access to technology which exploits the advent of super fast broadband connections. Only open a year or so and a family of swans have already made their home on the delightful artificial loch which also doubles as a functional water catchment.
Earlier in the week in Edinburgh I sat through yet another creative Industries conference which I suspect added little to anyone’s understanding of the challenges or opportunities which practitioners and businesses in Scotland face and did little more to advance a clear set of objectives for the public sector agencies charged with supporting them. Despite a decade of reports and summits claiming to chart the extent, value and needs of the sector(s) it’s notable that we are still no nearer to a defined set of objectives that could, in another decades time, be measured against the progress made. Maps continue to be drawn but agreeing the destination that they ought to help us get closer to seems as elusive as ever. Vague terms like ‘stronger’, ‘internationalised’, ‘networked’ may give everyone a warm feeling of progress but they risk being vacuous unless specific goals for specific sectors are agreed by the people whose livelihoods are actually at stake.
A few miles down the A9 at Newtonmore I visited the recently relocated Highland Folk museum collections facility. Visitors to the outdoor museum (founded by the extraordinary Isabel F. Grant) and its fascinating array of houses, shops and other examples of the built heritage of the Highlands are likely to be unaware of the vast collection of artefacts gathered together from a plethora of council offices, stores and attics where the range and significance of much of the collection was effectively hidden. This Aladdin’s cave of everything from farming implements to fashions offers a rich seam of opportunities for academic researchers and creative practitioners looking or inspiration whether that ends up in a thesis or a design!
The museum and archives sector is often seen as separate from the creative industries per se because it deals in ‘past’ creativity and so isn’t seen as contributing to the generation of new creative Intellectual Property (one of many putative definitions of the creative industries).
However there is an increasing awareness that collections of artefacts and written records can be a spur to and an important asset in the creation of new content whether thats a book, film, TV programme or, increasingly, online and interactive content. Including curators and other museum/archive staff in conversations about growing the creative industries is, in my view, particular important where cultural heritage has strong connections to current practice, as it does in the Highlands and Islands.
Finally an interesting example of two creative industries meeting – jewellery inspired by US TV series Outlander, filmed in Scotland. As it happens the books by Diana Gabaldon were themselves partly inspired by the character of Jamie McCrimmon in the 1966 series of Dr Who – an interesting instance of TV influencing literature influencing TV and finally Jewellery.