2017-18 Theme: Exploring Cultural Interests and Values

During 2017-18, our fellows will explore 'cultural interests and values', including a week of intensive activities during the world-famous Edinburgh festivals. The Fellows will attend pre-selected events at the festivals, as well as structured deliberations at the University of Edinburgh. Cultural conversations, rooted in participatory research techniques, will then be used to explore the creation, contestation, and choices around our cultural interests and values.

The 70th anniversary of the birth of the festival city of Edinburgh offers an important opportunity to explore the cultural values that created one of the largest annual cultural interactions in human history. The global values that informed the creation of the festival resulted from the vision of a few individuals and were fostered through a network of global and national institutions. Broadly, they reflected the Enlightenment Project with an optimistic view of learning from human interactions. Seventy years after the launch of the festivals, we ask ourselves how far we have come in terms of tolerance, understanding, and respect, as well in the spirit of universalism.

Moving through the direct experience of art and exploring cultural questions to iluminate global societal issues, the 2017 Global Cultural Fellows programme will address seven key themes related to Cultural Interests and Values.

Highs and Lows

Terms such as highbrow and lowbrow culture are used to distinguish taste in art and participation in such activities. It is important to recognize how various art forms fit into each category, but also how they interact or are excluded from one another in cultural programming and writing. Highs and lows can equally stand for exclusion and inclusion of any sort – for example, social, political, sexual – in and through art. In other words, what sorts or arts and cultural artefacts obtain high versus low standing, and what are the connections between these highs and lows and society?


This theme explores how individuals and social groups can assert voice through artistic creations or in society. What does it mean to have a voice? How do we come to characterize the voice of a group or community? The individual’s and group’s agency, or the capacity to act despite obstacles, may be a key consideration for how creative artistic expressions may be created.  Does the same hold for voice for social and political movements? Under what conditions do individuals remain silent or are silenced?  What does silence mean in art?  


This theme explores the artists or individuals as witnesses. What does it mean to be a witness to and how is that different from being an observer? Additional questions include what the artist’s or individual’s ethical responsibility is in situations of oppression, cruelty and hypocrisy?  Must an individual or an artist even have one?


Empathy describes the ability to relate to another individual’s point of view and understand his or her emotional response. Artists often express the human condition in terms that the audience will recognize. Empathy allows the artist to execute this task.  How do the arts humanize or dehumanize?  In general, how do we empathize and represent the individual and human condition?

Anger and Anxiety

How do societal anger and anxiety influence cultural activity on local, national and transnational scales? This theme also examines how artists create meaning from anger and anxiety in society at large. 

Culture Wars

This theme reflects on cultural politics and economics.  Cultural wars involve clashes of collective identities across divides that ca be societal, national, or transnational. For artists and cultural producers, political institutions and economics impact the ways and degrees to which the arts receive public support and approval. Culture Wars can reflect how art is created in the context of these political debates. 

The Global

The Global speaks to our current moment in an ever-globalizing world. Cosmopolitan understandings of human relations are in conflict with reactionary nationalist rhetoric and preferences. As a result, there is debate over how cultures are understood and how groups identify themselves.