One focus of the Cultural Bridge exchange project BESPOKE was looking at the roots of the initiatives and places we visited in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Munich. How did they come about, who is behind them, how are they financed and how do they position themselves within their local community?
Particularly interesting from the point of view of the cultural center LUISE was the look behind the scenes at the WHALE Arts Agency in Edinburgh and the Kinning Park Complex in Glasgow. Both organizations emerged from the commitment and initiative of local people and are now lighthouse projects and important meeting points in their neighbourhood and beyond.
What was particularly impressive at both locations was the extraordinarily large output of open activities for the community, which is mainly possible because so many people volunteer and want to enliven the place with their creativity and share their knowledge with other people. Many parallels can be seen between these two institutions and the LUISE cultural center: the amount of activities that are open to everyone, the constant effort to always work with and for the community and trying to offer a lively place where a wide variety of people can meet, regardless of their financial or cultural background.
Nevertheless, the situation is fragile: Kinning Park Complex in Glasgow recently received a major cut in their funding which has impacted their staffing and programme, and other cultural organizations and initiatives in Scotland are also struggling with hard cuts alongside inflation and the enormous increase in energy costs. Under these circumstances the radiant energy that can still be felt is even more impressive. The German guests were able to experience a very special moment at Kinning Park Complex: At the regular Community Meal, over 300 people were provided with fresh, home-cooked food. The volunteers in the kitchen greeted each and every guest with a warm and smiling “How are you?” as they ladled the rice into the bowl. A very special, but also sad moment: After three years, 53,000 meals and 3536 volunteer hours, this evening was the last Community Meal. Unfortunately, the extraordinary project had to be discontinued due to the financial cuts.
During their visit in Munich, the Scottish guests were able to experience a similar fragile situation – always between the strong energy of the people involved and the uncertain financial and bureaucratic situation – in the creative quarter of Munich. Artists, cultural workers and initiatives have been fighting for creative freedom and community-organized spaces here for many years, always under the threat that it could be over at any moment. Both in the two Scottish cities and in Munich, the project partners and the people we visited together had the opportunity for open and honest discussions, which hopefully gave both sides the courage to continue their valuable and nourishing community and artistic work.