Time to look again at Aberdeen

YOU don't have to look too far back to find a time when Aberdeen's creative community was not really a community at all.

There were lots of very talented people working alone - creating impressive work but with little cohesive vision, message or direction.

Fast forward to the present day and it's incredible to see how far we've come. Creating a vibrant culture in the region is now a priority and the arts and other creative groups are enjoying support from economic, tourism and Scottish creative organisations, like never before.

We have an opportunity to capitalise on this and deliver a sustainable creative output in the North-east which benefits our economy - improving residents' quality of life, attracting visitors and making it a more appealing place to work and establish businesses. We are at the start of that journey but have the potential to transform the region's cultural programme.

Reports, including Robert Gordon University's (RGU) "Creating a New North", reveal challenges which have become key to future success: attracting and retaining talent, changing perceptions and creating vibrant, attractive and meaningful spaces. The new City Masterplan is working with cultural providers like us to address these issues.

The launch of Aberdeen Festivals has played a pivotal role in providing structure for key cultural events while the likes of Aberdeen City Council's creative fund and opening of The Anatomy Rooms encourage emerging artists to remain here. It's a starting point but we have more to do to avoid losing talent to the central belt and further afield.

In 2014, it was agreed the region lacked a large-scale festival for visual art and design - and a partnership between Robert Gordon University (RGU) and SMART was formed to deliver Look Again over three years. The inaugural festival took place in 2015, encouraging people to take a renewed look at their surroundings. Independently, SMART had been showcasing contemporary art projects for years but this unique partnership allowed us to deliver a large scale event, giving us national recognition.

Look Again explores the role of the arts in creating a sustainable economy, while celebrating our rich cultural heritage, in turn strengthening the wider narrative to showcase Aberdeen as much more than the oil capital of Europe.

While it's amazing to have attracted internationally acclaimed artists to the city, we're most proud of Look Again's wider legacy. Not only do we enable local artists to showcase work alongside established creatives, we offer mentoring and funding, allowing them to stay here with a springboard to UK and international opportunities. We recently launched our seed fund and have allocated resources to local artists and to others who have left the city - but will return to showcase at Look Again.

Working in partnership with the council's Creative Learning Team, we host artist-led workshops with children and community groups.

When we started talking about establishing the region as a centre of excellence for visual art and design, we heard from many who thought it impossible. But, thanks to a range of factors, organisations have woken up to the benefits of a thriving cultural scene.

Despite the immediate economic challenges, I feel positive about the future. We have the talent to deliver a cultural programme that inspires residents and enhances their wellbeing. Now, we all need to get behind this movement and talk our region up.