Briana is the Executive Director of Creative Edinburgh

A mix of disciplines and becoming a Creative Director… I came to Edinburgh for University in 2010 with a strong desire to live abroad. My family is very international and has grown up in lots of different countries, although I’ve travelled I was the only one who hadn’t lived anywhere else. 

I grew up in Washington DC and was very into politics, geography, the planet, languages and cultures. I also felt I was creative and wanted to go to art school but essentially my family said no and my art teachers didn’t want to endorse my portfolio as they thought I should be doing something else. I was intrigued by politics and countries, so looked into English Universities as I loved London, but felt the system was too specialised. Then I looked at Scotland and thought it was perfect.

In 2014 I was elected president of Edinburgh University Students Association, that year really gave me the scope and space to set up my first business; the Edinburgh Students Arts Festival (ESAF). That idea grew from friends and I feeling creatively stifled during University and wanting an ‘in’ to the arts and creative industries. ESAF was a social enterprise; it had the sustainability and development elements of reinvesting back into the community that wasn’t just for profit. 

I ran ESAF for three and a half years, and while I was doing that, and after my year as EUSA president, I started freelancing. My first creative role was for Creative Edinburgh; they were planning their fourth birthday and Janine (then director) needed some help event coordinating. 

What transpired after that was a theme in the freelance work I was doing; all my roles seemed to eclipse entrepreneurship, creativity, start-ups and sustainable development in the creative industries. Running a festival for 3 and a half years and doing freelance work gave me a taste for different parts of the industry whether it was theatre, design and making, events, networks, network organisations and membership bodies. When I was EUSA president we had a 33,000 membership body. 

It’s been nice because I’ve always had my feet in the different worlds I cared about. But I’ve always felt that there are different facets to what I do that didn’t really integrate. However, I’ve now reached a point where one of the freelance projects I’m doing ties everything together, and that’s the Design Informatics project which is data driven innovation in the creative industries and sustainable development in the arts. 

On creativity and creative thinking… I believe that creativity is just the action of creating, and I think being creative is problem solving; creating something out of nothing, coming up with an idea. It can be looking at anything from aesthetic colours to flavours. I love cooking, I’ve always loved cooking and recipes and I find that creative. 

I know not everyone believes they are creative but I believe that everyone is and it just looks different for everyone. I don’t want to sound like I’m downplaying people who have a craft and dedicate time to it, but I do think we’re all creative if we want to be. Some people are more inclined to the chaos of uncertainty of unpicking things and putting them together, and that requires creativity. 

When I was running ESAF we wanted to help people realise their potential, which could be anything, and that’s why we made it open access and multidisciplinary. You didn’t have to be a student; you didn’t have to have qualifications. Some really great artistic practice and work came out of the festival; some people tested ideas of running a workshop, some by giving a talk and others by selling something they’d made. 

When I try to pin down my creative practice I’d say whilst I’ve always been a writer and I’ve always been a person who’s loved to cook, I feel it’s always been my thinking that’s been creative. 

On having a creative family… My grandpa retired quite young, he was a civil servant, and what he did every day in his retirement was play tennis and acting. He did amateur theatre his whole life but when he retired that’s what he focused on and did a lot of voiceovers. He used to record for this charity that worked with the blind and dyslexic folk and he would do voiceovers for them. He sounds a bit like Morgan Freeman, he has a very deep warm voice. My Grandma was an English teacher so I always had literature and books around me. My Mum was a ballet dancer her whole life, she danced in University went on to tour with a company for a few months after before deciding it wasn’t for her. My Dad was always a really great illustrator, when I was growing up I’d always see drawings of Architectural Designs laid out on the table. 

My parents always encouraged my own creativity; I went to dance and art camps from a young age, but I don’t think I realised when I was growing up how creative my family was. I also had siblings who are so much older than me so was on my own a lot and had to come up with creative ways of entertaining myself. 

So yeah, I think I grew up in a really creative family. I don’t think they’d ever call themselves artists or creatives but they inherently were. They just put them to the side as hobbies and passions. None of them ever did it professionally, apart from my Grandma, but I was definitely surrounded by it.

Learning from creatives and taking space… What I really love about creative people and people who are engaged with their artistic craft is they are more attuned to taking space as part of their process. Not everyone does it or has time for it and I think there are very few practices or sectors that really take this time to embody and embrace that. I often try to remind myself that if I were to approach a task in the same way an artist or a creative person would, that it’s taking that step back and time away and giving myself space to work through problems as they arise. I really feel I’ve learned that from artists and creative people and I really don’t think that is embedded or promoted anywhere else. 

On Edinburgh… Edinburgh is such a special place, it’s the city I came of age, it’s the city I really learned to be myself. There are a number of things I like and I find that Scottish Culture and Edinburgh in general can be quite an introverted culture, because of the weather and the long lasting winters, but I think that’s really allowed the introvert in me to come out and breath and be accepted in a way it wasn’t in The States because American culture is so extraverted and extra and it can be exhausting. I find Edinburgh can be dark and stormy and moody which just matches my mood sometimes.

It’s a small place where a lot of people are doing incredible things whether it’s running their own business or creative practice. It feels like a really nurturing place to test ideas out and have people support you and be in a creative inspirational community. I love that about Edinburgh. 

It’s also been a really important and special place for me to be in the last decade that’s allowed me to grow and develop at my own pace. It’s a really magical, unique, safe, special city which is why I love it.

On advice… My advice is that you cando it all, you just can’t do it all at the same time. Give yourself space to learn and grow; go at your own pace. Don’t compare yourself to others, I’m so guilty of it and it’s hard, but comparing yourself to other people is so unhelpful and I think when we live in a society of comparison it makes us unhappy and when it comes to your own creativity and creative practice don’t feel the need to put any parameters around it. If you lose interest or passion or ambition for something let it go, because if you force yourself to do something you don’t enjoy or because you think you shouldbe doing it, you’re going to kill it. I’m still working this through, I put this pressure on myself to be more routine to be more consistent, to build something over time, and when I find myself losing interest or moving on I feel guilty that I’m not consistent. But this is part of my creative process and who I am as a human. Everything about you and who you are feeds into your creative inspiration so I think it’s about being less strict with yourself, sure you need to practice, but don’t put so much pressure on yourself for it to look or be a certain way.