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Tuesday, 25 September, 2001, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Inverness seeks to join culture club
The Highland Festival
The Highland Festival is already well established
By BBC News Online Scotland's Mike Lloyd

Inverness is undermining clichés about life in the Highlands through its attempt to become Cultural Capital of Europe in 2008.

Intellectual snobs may snigger, but the last laugh was on them when they disparaged Scotland's previous title winner.

Glasgow's City of Culture year in 1990 brought wide acclaim and lasting benefits, not just to the city but for the whole central belt.

Culture is still the Cinderella in the Highlands, despite the fact that it is as important as the scenery for most visitors

Alastair McDonald, Highland Festival
Inverness has the chance to do likewise for the Highlands, according to the promoters of the bid who are meeting in the city this week to debate the future of Highland culture.

Highlanders still struggle against some central belt perceptions that culture stops north of Perth.

However, the reality is that it does have a unique and vibrant culture.

The Eden Court Theatre in Inverness is just one success story among many.

The 800-seater venue was predicted to become a white elephant when built in the 1970s.

But director Colin Marr said the doubters have been proved wrong.

He said: "We put on 160 different shows last year - and more dance and drama than any other venue in Scotland.

Four-day round trip

"We have the biggest per capita audience in Scotland and people travel huge distances to come and see our shows," said Mr Marr.

Every other year a school party from Benbecula makes a four-day round trip to see the pantomime at Eden Court.

Culture means more than the "high arts".

Guitar player
Music is of growing interest among the youth
A revival of traditional music has been taking place among young Highlanders, with groups springing up alongside pop and rock bands.

It is a major growth area, according to Ian Hamilton, director of Midas, set up to encourage musical talent.

He said: "The traditional scene had gone a bit quiet some years back, but audiences now are much younger than before - and many young people are learning to play."

Organisations like Feis Rois encourage teaching and traditional music making and Mr Hamilton said there is cross-fertilisation between traditional and pop styles.

Wide interest

Highland Festival director, Alastair McDonald, is convinced the Highlands have always been a place of cultural vitality.

But he said what is happening now is a co-ordinated approach with more focus and better publicity.

"There's joined-up thinking and lots of new developments. The Highland Festival itself is one of them and so is the Feis Rois," said Mr McDonald.

But he sounded a note of warning: "Money is needed to ensure this development is sustainable.

"Culture is still the Cinderella in the Highlands, despite the fact that it is as important as the scenery for most visitors."

There's a tremendous depth of history to the Highlands and a sense that the culture here is more than only the arts

Colin Marr, Eden Court Theatre
A successful Capital of Culture bid would bring more money for the whole Highlands arts scene.

But Inverness has to beat off competition from 10 other British cities before its bid can go forward to Europe.

The rules of the competition have been changed to allow cities to include their hinterland.

Mr Marr said that will work in favour of Inverness.

He said: "There's a tremendous depth of history to the Highlands and a sense that the culture here is more than only the arts, just as there was with the successful Glasgow bid."

Caroline Moyes reports
"The ink had barely dried on the award of city status when Inverness embarked on a bid to be Europe's capital of culture."
See also:

09 Jun 01 | Scotland
Support for culture city bid
19 Mar 01 | Scotland
Scotland's newest city slickers
18 Dec 00 | Scotland
Inverness: Scotland's newest city
18 Dec 00 | UK
City winners named
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