Edinburgh based, Highlight Arts' mission centers on their belief ‘that the arts contain power within the stories we tell which express who we are in this moment, and which imagines the possibilities of what we can achieve or where we can end up’ (Highlight Arts, 2020).
In 2019, the British Council / Creative Scotland Partnership supported a research and development project enabling the organisation to develop its existing Arctic-themed project. This project focuses on profiling art by Arctic-based artists, initiating collaboration with Scottish artists, including through a film exchange project for young people in Scotland and the High Arctic.
Highlight Arts’ members Yasmin Al-Hadithi and Mirja Koponen travelled to Finland and Greenland last year. Their aim was to network, identify new partners and to learn about the current themes and conversations in the field of Art in the Arctic.
They attended the Arctic Arts Summit in Rovaniemi in Finland during June 2019; the second-ever international art research and policy event for the region. Highlight Arts were one of only two representatives from the UK and the only one from Scotland.
Yasmin and Mirja were able to represent Scotland on the ‘northern’ stage by attending performances, and participating in networking events, discussions and workshops where they discovered a strong interest from other delegates in the Scottish arts scene.
Their next stop was the Nordic Arts Festival in Nuuk, Greenland. There, they took part in a series of artist workshops with other delegates from Canada, Greenland and Italy culminating in a joint public performance with the theme of ‘Home’ at the National Theatre of Greenland.
They also led a small research project titled Re-Imagine Y(Our) Arctic’ with participants and audiences at the festival who were invited to “reflect on the current challenges facing the north and to give a visual interpretation of this in the form of redrawing the map of the Arctic in/for the future” (Yasmin Al-Hadithi, 2020).
The outcomes of the research project were shared at a symposium in November 2019, delivered in partnership with the Scottish International Storytelling Festival and University of Glasgow Dumfries campus. The Scottish audience at the symposium were similarly invited to respond to the idea of Y(Our) Arctic.
In a poignant creative intervention at the symposium, Highlight Arts presented the audience with pieces of ice made from water brought back from Nuuk and containing either the word “future” or a drop of crude oil. This set the tone for discussion around the environmental challenges facing the Arctic region. The symposium was supported and attended by Scottish Government’s Arctic Policy Lead, Francesco Bertoldi.
Canadian storyteller Louise Profeit-LeBlanc from the Nacho Nyak Dän First Nation performed at the Dumfries symposium having met Highlight Arts at the Nordic Arts Festival.
The research visits facilitated many other contacts for Highlight Arts as they met with current artist collaborators (Jessie Kleemann in Greenland; Elina Ylitepsa and Tomi Knuutila in Rovaniemi) and made new connections with Nuuk Art Museum; members of Greenland’s Kimik Artist Association, Miki Jacobsen and Peter ‘Kujooq’ Kristiansen; Oleg Khadartsev, director of the Artist Association Fridaymilk in Murmansk, Arctic Russia; Greenlandic film director and producer Pipaluk K Jørgensen; and Liisa Elisabet Holmberg of the International Sámi Film Institute.
Highlight Arts, Yasmin Al-Hadithi remarks on the invaluable experience borne of these research trips stating:
“One of the most valuable long-term outcomes from these research visits is the way they allowed us to challenge our preconceptions and image of the contemporary Arctic, putting us in better stead to forge genuine relationships with the cultural actors and organisations in the region.”