Momentum 2018 delegates at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Alison Byrne, Director of Exhibitions and Education at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, reflects on being part of Momentum 2018

What do you say when you receive an invitation to participate in Momentum, a bespoke delegate programme that takes place in Edinburgh each year?

The answer is obvious. YES!

Thanks to a supportive workplace and family I was able to spend five inspiring days in Edinburgh last July. Now feels like a good time to reflect on the experience, as Momentum 2019 is just getting started. 

Hosted by Edinburgh Art Festival (EAF), the Momentum visual arts programme offered me a once in a lifetime opportunity to immerse myself in the Scottish contemporary art sector.

I was familiar with Edinburgh’s reputation as a leading festival city but didn’t realise that five unique festivals occur simultaneously each year during the month of August. Each festival has its own distinct focus and together they offer residents and visitors an amazing array of cultural experiences. 

Our hosts bring together leading museums, galleries and artist-run spaces to highlight and celebrate the visual arts in the city. Each of the partner organisations curate their own exhibitions and programming, and the EAF presents a programme of exhibitions, special events and newly commissioned works in public and historic sites around the city. 

I filled my phone with images of the outstanding art we saw, and the inspiring organisations we visited over the five days of gallery openings, studio visits, private views and networking events. There are too many exhibitions, experiences and people to mention, so here are just a few of the highlights. 

On our first day we visited the Edinburgh College of Art to see Shilpa Gupta: For, in your tongue I cannot hide. This powerful multi-channel sound installation was exhibited in a darkened old Firehouse. 100 microphones were suspended from the ceiling, emitting the words of poets who have been imprisoned over time for their writing or beliefs. Underneath each microphone a piece of paper with the words of the poet pierced a metal rod. The best art, the most powerful art stays with you. I’m still thinking about this piece and the moving orchestra of voices. 

The Talbot Rice Gallery hosted the delegates for an afterhours reception and tour of Lucy Skaer: The Green Man. Situated in The University of Edinburgh’s Historic Old College, it was fascinating to see how the staff and artist worked together to contextualize the exhibit in their three distinct gallery spaces. This relaxed visit allowed the delegates time not only to take in the exhibition, but also to spend time with the staff, exchange ideas and learn from each other.   

We also visited Glasgow and enjoyed our time at Tramway, GoMA, the Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow Sculpture Studios and the Modern Institute. For me, the Glasgow Women’s Library continues to resonate long after my visit. Dedicated to women’s lives, histories and achievements, it is far from your average library. Their innovative programming and public events inspired us all. Oh, and they welcomed us with tea in china cups and Tunnocks teacakes making for some very happy delegates! 

Something that impressed me throughout the visit was the keen sense of support and collaboration amongst all the arts organizations, their leaders and staff. I was consistently surprised to hear how knowledgeable everyone was about the programming and mission initiatives of their colleagues across the city.  It was refreshing and uplifting. It has inspired me to reflect on ways I can be a better supporter and advocate for colleagues in my own community.   

One of the best parts of Momentum was the incredible mix of people I met.  I ran out of business cards very early in the trip and returned home with lots of new contacts.  We couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome by our hosts and everyone involved with Momentum. 

Spending time with and learning from my five fellow delegates was also very special. The itinerary each day was fast-paced and intense. We spent a lot of time together and you couldn’t ask for a more gracious, fun and engaged group of people to enjoy the experience with. They were Pablo Caligaris, (Director, La Ira de Dios, Buenos Aires, Argentina), Natasha Conland (Curator of Contemporary Art, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki Auckland, New Zealand), Lucia Pesapane, (Head of Exhibitions, Monnaie de Paris, Paris, France), Bala Starr, (Director, Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) Singapore, Singapore) and Aby Cohen, (Independent Curator, exhibition and Theatre designer, Sao Paulo, Brazil). 

This was an incredibly rewarding trip for me both personally and professionally. It was a special time to learn, share and reflect. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many creative individuals, many of whom I plan to keep in touch with and find ways to connect and collaborate in the future. 

Momentum is a delegate programme that runs from the end of July and throughout the month of August in Edinburgh. It provides a dynamic platform for key cultural figures from across the world to engage and build relationships with the world’s leading Festival City, the wider Scottish cultural sector, and the international community that flocks to Edinburgh during the peak Festival season.

It is delivered by Festivals Edinburgh (on behalf of Edinburgh’s Festivals), British Council Scotland, and Creative Scotland, with additional support from City of Edinburgh Council and EventScotland.

See also