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Baldrick, books, bands and business – it must be XpoNorth 2021

Published: 26/02/2021

Iain Hamilton, HIE’s head of creative industries, on what’s 'cunningly' different about this year’s XpoNorth annual conference.

June usually brings the sun to the Highlands and Islands, and it always brings the XpoNorth conference, Scotland’s leading creative industries conference.

To help create a sense of place for this year’s event, which of course will be online, we’re asking for short videos that showcase the region and feature some of our businesses.

It’s certainly true that the sector has been one of the hardest hit over the past year, including the mass cancellation of festivals and other live performance events. It also faces new Brexit-related challenges, particularly around exports and international touring.

On a more positive note, this has highlighted the huge value of creative industries not only to our culture but our economy too. Before COVID, the sector accounted for 15% of the UK economy; that’s more than £309m a day. 

TV, software, fashion, crafts and publishing sustain the majority of jobs. However, music, art and antiques, and architecture are also significant growth areas. 

It is a fast-moving vibrant sector that has both economic and social benefits for our region. There is also a real opportunity to develop and sell its strengths - provenance, authenticity and innovation. 

And that’s what the XpoNorth annual conference is all about. It is far and away the biggest event in HIE’s calendar and a magnet for new and established talent from around the world.

Importantly, it’s also our big chance to showcase the region’s talents in visual arts, screen, music, writing, fashion, gaming, textiles and crafts to a truly international audience.

Last year we learned a huge lesson after deciding to run a virtual event, rather than cancelling. The result was amazing.

With 89 speakers and 35 seminars, we reached more than 6,000 participants; three times the anticipated number had it been a physical event.

As an interactive digital conference, this year’s XpoNorth has attracted another incredible line up of speakers for 16 and 17 June.

The programme includes the great and the good of international creative industries, including actor and broadcaster Sir Tony Robinson, of Blackadder and Time Team fame, along with some amazing homegrown talent.

There’ll be sessions on telling your story and brand building, provenance and heritage, emerging technology and the changing demands of consumers, and the importance of place in innovation.  

These themes are of value to most industry sectors, besides creative businesses.

Not surprisingly, we’ve already had bookings from firms in other sectors such as life sciences and health, tourism, and technology, who are keen to attend seminars and workshops or take advantage of free virtual trade stands.

The 2021 conference looks like it is going to be better attended than ever.

But what makes it really stand out, apart from Tony Robinson?

Well, there’s the XpoNorth app, which offers an immersive experience. It allows you to plan out your attendance at the conference and go back and watch sessions you couldn’t attend. 

It also enables one-to-one conversations between participants, meaning you can take advantage of the networking experience that’s so important to any event.

There will be some really different sessions on offer, ranging from mindfulness and yoga to mixing a great Highland cocktail. 

The wider XpoNorth initiative is of course a year-round programme for Highlands and Islands creative businesses, and a key part of our strategic support for the regional economy.

Additional funding comes from the Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal (Cumhnant Baile-Roinne) through The Northern Innovation Hub, as well as Museums Galleries Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland and Creative Scotland.

With all the changes we are experiencing, the creative industries are going to be increasingly important in how we present the region to the wider world.

So, if you have any short videos that show the region’s creative talents and give a real sense of place, let’s see them! The contact is info@xponorth.co.uk

Oh, and did I mention, we also have Tony Robinson confirmed? But that is part of a plan so cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a weasel!

Iain Hamilton

You can keep up to date on the XpoNorth website and get free tickets on the XpoNorth registration page.

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