Back in September we welcomed Dr Simon Gage to Edinburgh Napier University, part of a rolling series of public talks by the directors of Edinburgh's foremost festivals and other guest speakers. Simon heads up the Edinburgh International Science Festival, which has enjoyed a very successful 2012 with some innovative new events and the second instalment of their Abu Dhabi takeover. I remember the date as it was my birthday, but I'm only now making the time to post my notes from the evening. They might be a little opaque without having been there to set them in some kind of context, so any questions in the comments will be answered as best I can.
'Geek chic' as a new cultural phenomenon and the role science festivals play in making it so
Dr Simon Gage
Science in popular culture
- Aspects of science that have made their way into popular culture
- Methods and media: broadcast, publishing, museums, hands-on science centres and festivals
- On science centres: engagement is generally between human and machine, while human to human is more engaging
- Science events: stealing from other performances ??? theatre, etc. Kids performing fake operations with real kit. Dad dancing... based on testosterone levels?! Coffee event: what's the science behind the drink?
- Festivals: good sci festivals have allowed those with enthusiasm for science to find an audience that otherwise they couldn't reach
- Examples: Genoa learnt from Edinburgh; Abu Dhabi using Edinburgh, aimed at children, with the same activities being toured to different places; New York ('World Science Festival') commissioning major artistic works based on science, performed on Broadway
- Beyond science festivals: Uncaged Monkeys is mainstream; Secret Cinema; Guerilla Science popping up at other festivals... science outside the ghetto
- iPhone apps: Dream:On, from Richard Wiseman, getting social neurology into the public eye, finding a massive sample for research
- Things are changing: science is reaching out and is being done professionally
- What's driving the change?
- Very few trying to do it for money...
- ...but there are various stakeholders who want to see it happen:
- Economic impact: councils, etc. want to attract investment in science: knowledge based economies, with talented people attracted to your location. Notes that the richer a country gets the less likely its population is to want to work in science and technology. There's a role for festivals in providing opportunities for kids to experience science and find their vocations
- Recruit young talent
- Engage with public: governments aware that they need to get public support for spending on science, so they spend a lot of effort explaining what they do to try and win over the public. Note recent controversies that have seen the public oppose science
- Educational desire: formal and informal
- Scientists keen to share and find and audience: see Richard Wiseman at Science Festival; Richard Dawkins wanting to get his message out
- The market?
- These audiences have to be created and found ??? they're not there to be pinched from others
- Once you've found an audience you can put stuff in front of them in new ways
- Bring someone else's audience to you: bring in stars, the BBC, existing brands
- Identifies a local, not national audience: stakeholders want to attract a local audience, although tourism is on the horizon
- Abu Dhabi: benefits Edinburgh through money, opportunities to see talent around the world, a need to sharpen your game to meet high expectations
- Reaching out to new industries: forging links to new stakeholder groups from the arts to new university departments
- Science take up: anecdotal evidence that science festivals increase take up of academic courses... but very tough to provide evidence on a firmer basis
Making a festival
- The growth of science communication as a recognised profession
- Notes that there's a learning process: to get from a homespun event to something that looks great
- Go the extra mile to produce something wonderful and it becomes truly engaging and magical
- Recipe: science, communication, training, working together
- The lack of functioning markets in this content: other cultural areas have an established market, but it's hard to see where this is for science festivals; without the market the industry is lacking, a market will speed up the trading of ideas, content, performers and buyers
- Some events can be pretty techie, but if you know your audience and you can put them in the right environment you can be ambitious
- Competition: pitching yourselves against others in the same quadrant: high participation + high impact
- Work withyour competitors: the zoo, theatre companies, shopping malls, etc.
- Edinburgh: very competitive, so you gotta be good to survive in this city; but you can learn from the other festivals; the city helps set Edinburgh apart, likewise their work with families
Future of EISF:
- International contracts
- Plans to invest in training teachers
- Continuing to be good, rather than pushing for growth
Image: '2010.0807 Spirit of the Wild' | flickr.com/photos/27751389@N07/4468275509/