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Creativity, Sustainability and the Arts and Humanities

An event held at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 7 March celebrated the profound impact of creative research in the arts and humanities on sustainability in a variety of forms.

The event, which was co-organised with the Scottish Arts and Humanities Alliance (SAHA) and the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC), brought together researchers from across Scotland to showcase how creative research can provide innovative solutions to complex sustainability challenges.

The featured research initiatives covered a broad range of sustainability issues, from improving our environmental sustainability to supporting sustainable community spaces, local economies and heritage sites. Researchers gave short illustrations of their work to a mixed audience of policymakers, charities, cultural organisations and creative professionals. 

The event was chaired by Professor Sarah Skerratt, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and an introduction was delivered by Professor Murray Pittock, co-chair of SAHA.

To begin the showcase, Professors Mel Woods and Paul Rodgers, from the Universities of Dundee and Strathclyde respectively, presented their work on DESIGN Hopes. The project uses design-led research and practice to support urgent Net Zero goals and create a more equitable and sustainable health and social care ecosystem. For example, the team are mapping the volumes and types of plastics in NHS Scotland’s single-use PPE and identifying opportunities for recycling, such as diverting medical aprons to recycling streams rather than medical waste. 

Secondly, Dr Pauline Mackay presented the work of the Centre for Robert Burns Studies (CRBS), whose innovative, cross-disciplinary research has revolutionised understanding of Burns’s life and works, and increased the cultural and economic value of Burns not only in Scotland but internationally. The impact of this research was recognised when CRBS was awarded the Queen's Anniversary Prize earlier this year.

Finally, Dr Ben Thomas and Dr Lyn Wilson from Historic Environment Scotland presented the work of Engine Shed, Scotland’s dedicated building conservation centre. The team at Engine Shed are embedding digital innovation and creativity across their research activity and developing new practices to support both environmental and social sustainability. Recent work includes developing immersive digital spaces that can provide sustainable access to historic places, and repurposing vacant shopping centre units to provide vibrant community art spaces.

The presentations were followed by concluding remarks from Tao-Tao Chang, Associate Director for Programmes at the AHRC, and Professor Jo Fox, Dean of the School of Advanced Study. Both emphasised the vital importance of the arts and humanities in our collective response to the sustainability challenges we face, and called for continued support and funding for research in this area.

Closing the event, Professor Fox said “The sustainability challenges we face are diverse and cross-cutting, and will increasingly require solutions that are multifaceted and interdisciplinary.”

“As we have seen tonight, arts and humanities research can, and must, play an integral role in our response.”

The event was the fourth in a series of events led by the School of Advanced Study and the AHRC that are celebrating the impact of arts and humanities research across the UK. The programme reflects SAS’ commitment to promoting and advocating for the value of arts and humanities research from across the UK.

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