In March of 2017 The Lab launched the Lab Fellows program. Funded in part by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, this 18-month virtual global residency program brings together exceptionally promising professionals (performers, producers, directors, writers, scholars, activists) from around the world who are working at the intersection of performance and politics, including practitioners of international affairs and performance.
Among the key features of the Fellows Program is an in-person convening, which was hosted by the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for International Cultural Relations, where our 10 Lab Fellows have been named to their innovative Global Cultural Fellows alongside 23 other participants from around the world. The convening was focused around the world-famous Edinburgh festivals, and Fellows attended events at the festivals, as well as structured discussions at the University of Edinburgh.
The Global Cultural Fellows program addressed seven key themes, one each day, around which the discussion and performances was focused.
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.
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 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.