Gibbs SIP2012 Scotlands Science Festivals

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A text form of an image-based presentation given at 'Science in Public 2012' at University College, London, UK on 20-21 July 2012

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Gibbs SIP2012 Scotlands Science Festivals

  1. 1. Science in Public 2012 Scientific Celebration:Scotland’s science festivals and their place in culture Beverley Gibbs, University of Nottingham, UK
  2. 2. Introducing Scotland• Scotland is in northern Europe, part of the United Kingdom for 400 years with a devolved Government, separate legal system and separate church• Population density is 1/6 that of England, GDP per capita 17% higher than England. Economically Scotland is a net contributor to the UK• In the 20th century Scotland’s economy relied on heavy industry such as shipbuilding, steel, coal mining, engineering and latterly oil & gas
  3. 3. Rebranding Glasgow• Significant amount of de-industrialisation in the 70s and 80s led to economic challenges• Cities had significant areas of derelict land and deserted buildings with no public funds available for redevelopment• Glasgow responded with an overt rebranding campaign, “Glasgow’s Miles Better” (1983)• Glasgow’s Miles Better won many awards and is considered to be one of the earliest and most successful attempts at rebranding the city• Success culminated when Glasgow was named European Capital of Culture 1990
  4. 4. What of Edinburgh?• Edinburgh – Scotland’s capital city - faced many of the same challenges as Glasgow, and indeed had a heritage of art, architecture and literature• As Glasgow had positioned itself so strongly in culture, Edinburgh City Council looked backwards to find its future: as a City of Science – Many key figures before, during and after the Scottish Enlightenment populated Edinburgh eg Napier, Hume, Smith, Hutton, Clerk Maxwell, Jex-Blake…
  5. 5. Using the festival format was a natural way to portray Edinburgh as a City of Science• Edinburgh was already established as a ‘festival city’ – Edinburgh International Festival est.1947 – Edinburgh Fringe est.1947 – Edinburgh International Film Festival est.1947 – Edinburgh Military Tattoo est.1950 – Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival est.1978 – Edinburgh International Book Festival est.1983• This is how Edinburgh came to host the world’s first International Science Festival in 1989 – in Spring so to extend the tourist season• The Festival is highly regarded and the format copied widely: – the model has spread across Scotland with recurring festivals in Orkney, Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow, Fife & Edinburgh – Occasional festivals in 10 other locations acress Scotland• British Association for the Advancement of Science evolved their Annual Meeting into a festival format by 1992
  6. 6. What are the distinguishing features of a science festival?1. They do what festivals have done since the beginning of human culture ... bring people together in some sense of shared space to celebrate for a limited time2. Science festivals always engage science with the arts: – Mixing science with authors, artists, comedians, politicians, sculptors, actors, philosophers – in a range of venues including the town hall, market square, art gallery, museum, cinema, zoo, botanic gardens, public green spaces …3. People are engaged on an impressive scale – Maybe 150,000 people across Scotland annually? – Richard Wiseman’s ‘Dream:ON’ app downloaded 300,000 times in the week following its launch at Edinburgh Science Festival 2012 – This scale is not achieved without significant media attention, with a specific skill set
  7. 7. 4. Festivals offer a range of formats, many not readily available elsewherePhotography competitions PUBLIC LECTUREDragons Den WorkshopsFitness MOT Animal handlingEthical symposium Walking tourCafe Scientifique Meet the NASA astronautKnitting group Public Jury eventsDebates Observatory showsLab visit Wine receptionWhiskey school Model buildingScience history talks Science safariScience cart in shopping mall Community garden visitStand-up comedy Guided rambleExhibition ceilidhAcrobatic display Photography exhibitionsBilingual events Contemporary danceThings to make Participatory psychologyScience show/HALL Church serviceBike-powered outdoor screenings Public deliberationMovie/screening followed by Q&A
  8. 8. 5. Science festivals draw on celebrity• Celebrities have formed an important part of the science festival landscape, with familiar faces from TV, books, radio• For example (over the current 12 months): Jim Al-Khalili, Derren Brown, Dr.Bunhead, Bill Bryson, Brian Cox, Jane Goodall, Adam Hart-Davies, Raj Persaud, Iain Stewart, Richard Wiseman• Celebrities perform at least 3 functions: – They act as a familiar face – we know them, we know what they ‘do’ – They attract media – in turn attracting sponsorship and impact – Basic icon power – they’re admired, people want to see them, it’s ‘something special’, builds social capital
  9. 9. However, not all science festivals are equal• Science festivals have their roots in economic development, not in science outreach• But we can start to see a difference between these more ‘corporately’ driven science festivals and the more local events which have sprung up around them• These more recent festivals are often in University cities, cities with a lot of local commercial R&D, are smaller scale, smaller budget, quite different origins• They often overtly seek to connect local people with local research, with events that draw on local features/history• We might think of this as an adaptation of the science festival from a visitor attraction to a form of public engagement, with all the rationales that entails
  10. 10. Local science festivals have different sensitivities• More sensitive to ease of access, and think differently around ticket price, celebrity• “I cant afford [celebrities], that’s the reality of it and again… maybe its just a mentality we have in our organisation but if I had £5000 I would rather spend it on running an event for free in a hard to reach deprived area of [……] than I would in buying in a big name that then only a certain portion of the population can afford to pay for the tickets” FES4• “But however, I do feel that …me and the organisation and probably the partnership have more confidence in the festival now and I think because… awareness has grown so much over [recent] years I don’t know if I feel so much dependant on getting a big speaker as I might have done last year..” FES2
  11. 11. How do festivals mediate science?• By its very nature, the encounter is short-term• There is often someone with the distinct role of ‘expert’• Communication is frequently unidirectional• Whilst this type of activity is often not sufficient to truly engage with someone, it is often necessary• Science festivals are expanding their repertoire of more dialogic formats, exploring eg ethical issues where appropriate• The presence of celebrity distinctly alters the behaviour of the audience, no exception in science!
  12. 12. How do different audiences participate in science festivals?• Ticket price can be an issue – Most science festivals offer something for free – Tickets range from £4-£35 (higher end is exceptional) – Concessionary price options are usual now, although sometimes concessions = students – The more local festivals are priced differently to the large scale events• Post-hoc evaluations of audience diversity could be more sophisticated• There is a general view (should/could be explored quantitatively) that festivals act as an accessible gateway• “I mean most people that pay for a ticket to go to a science festival are middle class, that’s - you know - no surprise there. That’s why we do things like …. put events in shopping centres so we – yeah – you can choose the demographic by your location and by your ticket price.” FES1
  13. 13. Do science festivals deliver something unique?• Festivals position science into the broader cultural landscape that few, if any, other modes of engagement do – This reaches completely new audiences through venue or collaborating organisations – Getting science accepted as part of the cultural landscape of a city is an ongoing struggle• Festivals are particularly good at communicating with people on something other than a cognitive basis. – Science doesn’t have to be about listening and learning – It is often a more visual and more emotional engagement: joy, delight, surprise
  14. 14. What’s in the future for science festivals?• Diversity of participants should be considered an ongoing challenge – Not just in the audience, but in science communicators too• The effects of funding evolution will be significant – The supply of skilled and willing science communicators is maturing: once scarce, there is now competition to get on programmes – So much so that communicators can now be charged to participate (marketisation of the impact agenda?) – Obviously this introduces barriers to participation – But may offset costs to decrease ticket prices for the public – An alternative source of funding is commercial sponsorship • Whilst all festivals are partnership projects, commercial contributions have often been ‘in-kind’ or small-scale • Will the generation of significant cash to displace costs bring about a transaction of value, which will affect the types of science being
  15. 15. Further Reading• Bultitude, K., McDonald, D. and Custead, S. (2011) The Rise and Rise of Science Festivals: an international review of organized events to celebrate science. International Journal of Science Education, Part B: Communication and Public Engagement 1(2):165-188• Nolin, J., Bragesjo, F. and Kasperowski D. (2003) Science Festivals and Weeks as Spaces for OPUS in Felt (2003) OPUS Final Report.• Roten, F. & Moeschler, O. (2007) Is art a “good” mediator at a science festival? Journal of Science Communication 6(3):1-9 • Edinburgh: www.sciencefestival.co.uk • Fife: www.fifesciencefestival.org.uk • Glasgow: www.glasgowsciencefestival.org.uk • Inverness: www.monsterfest.co.uk • Orkney: www.oisf.org

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