The Humboldt Forum: Lessons for Scotland and the world

Architectural model of the new building for the Humboldt Forum.

Architectural model of the new building for the Humboldt Forum.
Image: Wikimedia Commons (Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)

Sometimes one is presented, unexpectedly, with visions of such ambition and worth that they leave you reeling. It seemed fitting on the first day of spring that we should be presented with one such vision by Professor Dr Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation at a workshop co-hosted by the Centre for Cultural Relations at the University of Edinburgh, the National Museums of Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Continue reading

Design in Motion

Travelling Gallery (Image courtesy of V&A Dundee)

The Design in Motion travelling gallery (Image courtesy of V&A Dundee)

Like a scene from the Cliff Richard movie ‘Summer Holiday’, the V&A Dundee ‘Design in Motion’ bus pulled in to Edinburgh last week.

I took the opportunity to take a tour at its stop-over in George Street. In collaboration with the Travelling Gallery, the bus is showcasing the work of contemporary designers trained or based in Scotland who engage with the challenges of digital technology. Continue reading

Soft Power

Image by Billy Smith (, used under a Creative Commons license

Image by Billy Smith (, used under a Creative Commons license

Holidays in the Hebrides and the busy beginning of semester have rather limited time for the blog, but I return with a transcription of a position statement I delivered during the last week of the Edinburgh International Festival at the end of August at a discussion panel addressing the question of ‘soft power’ in contemporary Scotland. Chaired by my colleague Charlie Jeffery and including contributions by developmental linguist Antonella Sorace and think-tank consultant John Holden, it took place before last night’s momentous referendum vote, but it seems apposite to post it the day after. Continue reading

Scotland Can Make It

To Jim Lambie’s Poetry Club in Glasgow’s West End last night to contribute to an event hosted by the design and curation outfit Panel, directed by the talented Catriona Duffy and Lucy McEachan. In tandem with the Commonwealth Games, Panel had commissioned a number of Scotland-based artists and designers to produce a limited run of six souvenirs for the Games, in a collection called Scotland Can Make It. Continue reading


Francis Mckee

Hospitalfield. Image by Francis Mckee ( used under a Creative Commons license

Yesterday I visited Hospitalfield and enjoyed the hospitality of its enlightened and energetic Director, Lucy Byatt. The historic house in Arbroath was originally founded in the 13th Century, and has been altered and changed by many of its occupants since then. In particular, by Patrick Allan-Fraser, and the family he married into. Continue reading

Scottish Colourists and Miss Jean Brodie

People and Sails by JD Fergusson. Artwork in the public domain.

“People and Sails” by JD Fergusson. Artwork in the public domain.

I read two interesting articles in this weekend’s newspapers: in the Financial Times there was a review of the exhibition of JD Fergusson’s paintings at Chichester’s fantastic Pallant House Gallery, and in the Guardian there was a recollection by Penelope Jardine of her life in Italy with novelist Muriel Spark, written to coincide with a new collection of essays by Spark (The Golden Fleece), edited by Jardine. Reading these in tandem, in an Edinburgh made even more beautiful than usual by uncharacteristic unbroken sunshine, brought home to me the very particular character of a city that I have only called home for three years, but which is increasingly opening up its reticent personality to me in the manner of a slowly developing friendship. Continue reading



This week saw the opening of several exhibitions that are part of the GENERATION programme, celebrating 25 years of Contemporary Art in Scotland and coinciding with the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. As ever, Edinburgh lined all its ducks up at the same time and on Thursday evening the city’s artists’ community enjoyed a round of buzzing private views in its independent and national galleries. Continue reading