News Stories | 18 August 2020

The Transformational Power of Culture launches on 22 August

It feels like nothing in the world today is as it should, or was expected to be and the process of reimagining how we learn, socialise and even live side by side in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic is testing individuals, communities and governments internationally.

In keeping with this need for change, Edinburgh International Culture Summit returns with a radically different format in 2020, focused on exploring the powerful role, and transformational potential, of culture in key aspects of our lives, in the world we now live in.

Launching on 22 August at 10am (BST) the Summit’s Special Edition will take place exclusively online and will be available to all, free of charge, for the first time ever via

Delivered in partnership by the British Council, Scottish Government, UK Government, the Scottish Parliament and the Edinburgh International Festival the Summit will introduce a fantastic range of contributors from around the world who will bring their voice and expertise to three areas of discussion – Culture and Education, Culture and Social Cohesion and Culture in Vibrant Communities.

The Summit’s Special Edition recognises the role of culture in different sections of society and areas of day to day life, making it vital to invite experts from the diverse fields of architecture, science, psychology, economics, philanthropy, medical science and the arts, to join the conversation about how culture in its many forms is an important part of the catalyst for change needed to move the world forward.

These experts, each drawing on years of research and experience, will appear alongside Ministers of Culture from Algeria, Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Mexico, Singapore, Scotland, UK, Ukraine and the USA.

At the Special Edition of the Summit, the contribution of artists and speakers has been grouped around three main themes; Culture in Vibrant Communities, Culture and Education and Culture and Social Cohesion.

All films will go live on the morning of 22 August, however from Monday 24 to Wednesday 26 we will focus in on each of the themes.

Culture in Vibrant Communities will take centre stage on Monday 24 August and will explore how health and social factors impact design which, given that the Covid-19 pandemic has seen most of us spending extended periods of time inside, in either close proximity to others, or conversely in isolation, is a topic of huge relevance to all.

Two contributors linked to two of the world’s most iconic cultural hubs, who will discuss the role that cultural spaces have on the health and wellbeing of both individuals and society, are Dr Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress and Tristram Hunt, Director, Victoria and Albert Museum London.

Culminating in a live webinar at 5pm (BST) Culture in Vibrant Communities will re-examine our understanding and organising of cultural space. Registration is open at

Those taking part in the Culture in Vibrant Communities strand are Dr Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, The Library of Congress; Farrokh Derakhshani, Director, Aga Khan Award for Architecture, Aga Khan Trust for Culture; Cameron Rashti, Director, Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, Aga Khan Trust for Culture; Clara Miller, President Emerita, Heron Foundation; Tristram Hunt, Director, Victoria and Albert Museum; and Rahul Mehrotra, Architect and Professor, Harvard University.

Next up, on Tuesday 25 August, Culture and Education will encourage discussion around the impact that the past few months have had on education, looking to existing cultural research and theories for potential solutions.

Among those taking part is Assal Habibi, Assistant Research Professor of Psychology, University of Southern California. Assal has spent years studying the impact of learning music on the social, behavioural and cognitive abilities of children, and has found it to benefit, among other things, levels of compassion and impulse control, both of which seem particularly relevant today.

In turn Daisy Fancourt, Associate Professor of Psychobiology and Epidemiology, University College London will discuss how art activities affect our health, including our risk of developing illness and how it can help in the management and treatment of illness. She will also touch on the impact of Covid-19 on the physical and mental health of children and the elderly, outlining the way in which the arts can have a positive impact on the physical, phycological and behavioural health of both of these groups.

Culture and Education will also culminate in a live webinar at 5pm (BST) on Tuesday 25 August with an open invitation to those interested to register and attend.

Those taking part in the Culture and Education line up are Assal Habibi, Assistant Research Professor of Psychology, University of Southern California; the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles; Sistema Scotland; Dr Daisy Fancourt, Associate Professor of Psychobiology & Epidemiology, University College London; Andy Haldane, Chief Economist, Bank of England; and Daniel Lubetzky, Founder and Executive Chairman, KIND & Empatico.

And finally, Wednesday 26 August will be dedicated to Culture and Social Cohesion and will look at how, particularly during the era of Covid-19, we can use art as a way to connect with each other using shared experiences and stories to bring hope and to help us heal.

Among the contributors is Elif Shafak, award-winning author and social activist, who believes that it is through literature and the art of storytelling that we achieve a sense of connectivity, something which has never been more important. By acknowledging the multiplicity of our identity, we are best equipped to achieve social justice and equality and, at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting different parts of the world and society in drastically different ways (and to hugely different extents) the potential to embrace this in pursuit of positive change for all, is huge.

Culture and Social Cohesion will culminate in a live webinar at 5pm (BST) on Wednesday 26 August and registration is open.

Culture and Social Cohesion will include contributions by Professor Ismail Serageldin, Emeritus Librarian of Alexandria; Cynthia Schneider & Derek Goldman, Co-founders of Georgetown Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics; Dr Leah Pisar, President, The Aladdin Project; Andrew Gilmour, Executive Director, Berghof Foundation; The Trojan Women Project; and Elif Shafak, Author.

In addition to the themed areas of discussion the Summit Special Edition will also share Special Messages from Music and Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Gustavo Dudamel; Secretary General of the European Festival Association, Kathrin Deventer; Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker; and Bulgarian politician and the former Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova.

Sir Jonathan Mills, Director of the Edinburgh International Culture Summit Foundation said: “When the global impact of decades of normal economic and social behaviour is being so abruptly overturned, this Special Edition of the Edinburgh International Culture Summit will consider what ideas and perspectives embedded in our cultures can help take us beyond our current predicament.

“Join us as we journey from the Kumbh Mela Festival on the banks of the River Ganges to the Al-Azhar park in Cairo. We visit a dance company in Brazil and Youth Orchestras in Scotland and Los Angeles. We travel from Washington’s Library of Congress to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. We hear the voices of Trojan Women echoed in Syrian refugees from Glasgow and are reminded that art endures beyond the moment of its creation.”

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