Two weeks of events are about to get under way which explore Scotland’s remarkable relationship with the Arctic and the threat to the region from climate change.
Scotland and the Arctic: A Conversation runs from 8 to 20 October and involves a wide range of inspiring activities in and around Dumfries.
It follows hot on the heels of the Scottish Government’s publication of Arctic Connections – Scotland’s Arctic Policy Framework.
The festival will be the largest event organised by A Year of Conversation 2019, whose Creative Director is Dumfries poet Tom Pow, and coincides with the annual migration of Barnacle Geese from the Arctic to south west Scotland.
Co-presented with The Scottish International Storytelling Festival, it will feature international storytelling at Moat Brae (the national Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling) where the guests will include Dawne McFarlane from Toronto and Louise Profeit-LeBlanc, an Aboriginal storyteller, cultural educator artist and writer.
Highlight Arts will be making use of the festival to gather material for their work in Greenland, home to Jessie Kleemann, Inuit poet and performer, whose performance piece The Arctic in Chaos will be one of the highlights of the fortnight.
There will also be a Wild Goose Weekend, a film festival, children’s events and a day of conversation about Scotland and the Arctic, featuring storytellers, poets, naturalists and academics, as part of Glasgow University’s marking of 20 years in Dumfries.
As part of a mini festival of the Arctic in Film, Colin Tennant and Dr Saskia Coulson will share their photography and film of the region – and the rapid changes it is undergoing. Colin, who is from Dumfries and Galloway, has recently returned from sailing through the North West Passage.
Scotland and the Arctic will also look at how Scots have been involved with The Arctic over the centuries – sometimes as scientific explorers adding to the sum of human knowledge, at other times as whalers exploiting and endangering its wildlife. Robyn Stapleton will be singing songs about whaling as part of one key storytelling event.
Pow, who has visited the Arctic as a writer and storyteller and who has written a Radio 4 play about the famed Orcardian, John Rae (Aglooka: John Rae and the Fate of the Franklin Expedition) says: “This event is an opportunity to think about our past, present and future links with one of the most wondrous and fragile places on Earth.
“It once seemed very distant, but the inter-connections between what is happening there and its global impact bring it into greater focus.
“The history of Scotland’s relationship to the Arctic has been one of exploration and exploitation.
“The undoubted heroism of early Polar explorers, such as Dumfries-born Sir John Richardson, subject of a talk by Professor Ted Cowan, has to be seen alongside the remorseless work of the whalers from east coast ports like Dundee and Aberdeen.
“Nowadays, there are concerns of fresh exploitation of natural resources, of the effects of climate change which can be ‘read’ in the behaviours and feeding habits of the Arctic geese which land here each autumn, and of the impact of a global culture on fragile ecologies.
“In short, the time has come for Scotland to re-evaluate its connections to and relationships with the Arctic.”
The festival takes place against the backdrop of the publication of the Scottish Government’s new policy framework on the Arctic.
The all-day conversation, taking place on Saturday 19 October (hosted by GU’s School of Interdisciplinary Studies), involves Francesco Bertoldi, the Scottish Government’s Senior Policy Adviser on the strategy, as well as storytellers, artists, ecologists and academics from Scotland, Greenland, Iceland and Canada. It will explore possibilities for future dialogue.
The festival, which considers narrative, history, representation (visual and literary), environment and ecology and artistic engagement between Scotland and the Arctic, is being organised in partnership with the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, Moat Brae National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling, Glasgow University School of Inter-Disciplinary Studies, Dumfries, WWT Caerlaverock Wetlands Centre, Robert Burns Film Theatre, Cample Line and Highlight Arts.