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The Scottish Labour Party Manifesto published today states that culture matters.  In  a substantial section on culture, the Manifesto declares the importance of the arts, culture and creative industries as a driver for economic growth, commits to the continuance of free access to museums and galleries and modernising libraries.  It also makes specific commitments to particular areas, in what might be seen as highly interventionist in some areas and perhaps a little out of touch in others, specifically the idea of rolling out a theatre ticket initiative from London’s South Bank.

The greatest commitment is made to support music, music in education, more of the Youth Music Initiative and an instrument fund as well as a Music Investment Fund for the music industry. The Manifesto commits to the first ‘joined-up’ music policy for Scotland which it will lead on with the music industry, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise not forgetting Creative Scotland.  This suggests  a much more interventionist role in the arts and creative industries than the position we have got to now with Creative Scotland charged with leading the coordination of the Creative Industries Strategy which has been agreed by the enterprise bodies, government and local government.  The problem with a Government weighing in on one art form is the potential for an imbalance across the sector. The problem with a Government leading on an art form policy and asking its new and shiny arms length agency to contribute and not lead, is that it undermines the effectiveness – and therefore the efficiency – of that body.  We taxpayers are paying good money for experts in Creative Scotland – lets utilise that expertise please.

The Manifesto also commits to a Scottish Film Champion to” promote collaboration between drama and film and drive forward new thinking as a first step”. Drama and film use many of the same skills and creative writers, actors, directors and production staff. Drama and film are now both part of the remit of Creative Scotland so it will be interesting to understand what ‘new thinking as a first step’ means.

Even more specific is the commitment to ‘build on the success of the National Theatre’s £10 season, working with theatres and sponsors to provide reduced-rate tickets for theatre performances across Scotland’. I presume that they mean the £12 Travelex scheme at the National Theatre on the South Bank of the Thames, where the top price ticket is £45.  A ticket for a National Theatre of Scotland production rarely reaches the £20 mark, and tickets at most of our theatres hover around the £10 – £15 mark. Rolling out a scheme from London’s National Theatre is wide of the mark. Are the other commitments better informed?

 

 

The Manifesto reads…

“From Burns in the 18th century, to T in the Park today, Scotland’s cultural life is world-renowned. The talent of Scottish artists continues to shape the world around us But it is perhaps the most difficult period in our recent history to argue the case for investment in art and culture. But Labour believes that culture matters.

“Scottish Labour believes that we need strong leadership in this area more than ever as we pass through the difficult times. Not only has the accessibility of arts, music and culture defined our nation’s heritage and culture, it has enhanced the quality of our lives. Scotland has a strong and proud track record as a nation of creative talent and we must capitalise on this potential to become world leaders in the creative industries.

“Scotland’s capacity for creative innovation is our ticket to economic growth. Investment in the creativity of our people is an investment in our future prosperity. And the vanguards of our heritage – from the Mining Museum in East Lothian to the National Museums and Galleries throughout Scotland – are key to  boosting our tourism industry and attracting increasing numbers of visitors to Scotland.

“Our approach will be rigorous, from widening access to music tuition for our youngest citizens, to providing support for the creative industries at the highest level. We will nurture the creativity of Scotland to benefit all of our people.”


Our promises to Scotland

  • Deliver new jobs in the cultural sector by investing in the creative industries, with a Scottish Film Champion to promote collaboration between drama and film and drive forward new thinking as a first step
  • Deliver Scotland’s first joined-up music policy, ensuring that music is central to the school curriculum and delivering a new musical instrument fund for schools
  • Modernise library services to expand the provision of superfast broadband and e-book lending
  • Promote the widest possible access to the arts, by working to protect free admission to galleries and museums
  • Protect the international development budget and deliver support for development education

Growing our creative industries

The arts sector will be critical in creating the economic growth that will lift Scotland out of tough times. That is why Scottish Labour’s cultural policy will give priority to investment in the creative industries, devising a strategy for international promotion and delivering the new, skilled jobs that will be the fuel of Scotland’s economic recovery.

We will do all we can to develop Dundee as a hub for high-quality design, supporting the emergent and successful games industry in the city and the V&A project. Scottish Labour will establish a Music Investment Fund, modelled in discussion with the music industry, Creative Scotland, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, to support the growth of small and medium businesses in the music sector.

We also want to use the creative industries to encourage inward investment in Scotland. In particular, we will explore the best ways to support our film industry. We will appoint a Scottish Film Champion, to promote greater collaboration between drama and film production in Scotland, to attract fresh investment and to drive forward new thinking.

Nurturing Scotland’s musical talent

Investing in the skills of our young people is central to Scottish Labour’s vision for Scotland. Their skills are the foundation on which our future prosperity rests and their creative talents are no exception. It is our ambition to give all children – no matter their background – the opportunity to access music tuition and musical instruments.

We will continue the Youth Music Initiative, ensuring that all children in P5 and P6 have access to music tuition. We will also establish a Musical Instrument Fund, to give assistance to those families who need it to access a musical instrument for their children’s tuition.

Scottish Labour also aims to carry out a National Music Audit, to identify variations in music provision at local authority level and build on the best practice of already-successful programmes across Scotland. Scottish music is recognised world-wide for contemporary, classical and traditional music. Our policy will address how to support excellence in music.

Culture matters

Scottish Labour will work to ensure that every person, no matter their background, can become involved in cultural activity.

We remain committed to free admissions to our museums and galleries and will work with local authorities to ensure the continuation of this policy, including creating better access to art collections of national significance.

We will . We will also consider the feasibility of establishing a National Youth Companies Unit in Creative Scotland and will review how incentives for philanthropic support for the arts can be strengthened.

Scottish Labour will explore the best way to support young artists and Scottish art graduates early in their professional careers, so that they can continue to work in Scotland and use their talents to enrich our local communities. Similarly, we will support community arts, recognising that they are a vital component of developing strong communities. We will also give public institutions a new right to borrow works of art from the national collection, so that more people can benefit from our national heritage.

We know that libraries are at the heart of many communities and we understand why people feel so passionate about protecting them during difficult economic times. Scottish Labour recognises that libraries are a key way of achieving digital inclusion in Scotland and will do all we can to protect local services. We want to widen access to books and will prioritise the modernisation of library services, expanding the provision of superfast broadband, delivering free wi-fi for workers on the move and enhancing opportunities for e-book lending. We will also protect mobile libraries in rural areas. We will work with Glasgow City Council to secure funding for the Glasgow Women’s Library, as it moves to become the Women’s Library of Scotland.

Over the last thirteen years Scotland’s towns and cities have made great strides in recovering from the damage of the 1980s. Even as spending on capital projects becomes more constrained in the years ahead, Scottish Labour will continue to promote excellence in design and architecture, helping to foster civic pride and build world-class places in which people want to live and work.

Our aim is to ensure the very best standards of architecture and building design are met, in school-building projects and all new government-funded building programmes. We will seek to strengthen the skills and capacity of local authorities to promote good design, and ensure that quality and excellence are at the heart of the planning system.

Scottish Labour is proud to celebrate the diversity of Scotland’s many languages, including Gaelic, British Sign Language (BSL) and the many languages spoken by those new to our country.

We will support opportunities for learning Gaelic, including removing the obstacles to Gaelic education and increasing the number of Gaelic medium teachers where there is strong parental demand.  We will encourage Gaelic broadcasting, Gaelic arts and increased visibility for the Gaelic language in Scotland. We will support the work of the Gaelic college in Skye, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, and will encourage new learners of the language, along with supporting those native speakers from the traditional Gaelic heartlands and beyond.

In these times of financial crisis, arts funders cry out for theatre companies to be more innovative and to find new business models.  Implicit in these challenges is the belief that theatre companies are at best conservative and risk-averse or at worst hopeless at business and organisation. While this is sometimes the case, most theatres and arts organisations are entrepreneurial, innovative and smart.  Its just that they havent established their value and this is often because of the lack of evidence.

NESTA has published Culture of Innovation, a report into how the National Theatre and the Tate innovate.

The headlines have been grabbed by the phenomenal success of NT Live, the livestreaming of NT productions which not only have seen the NT extend the size and social breadth of its audiences but have also shown that this platform has found audiences to be more emotionally engaged than those at the theatre – it breaks through the fourth wall.

But these headlines can obscure other key messages about theatre from the report:

1. theatres can be intrinsically innovative because they take risks with new plays

2. theatres can be as smart at business as other commercial outfits – managing programming, ticket yield etc

I guess many of us in the theatre knew that.  But the fact that funders dont know this stems in part from a lack of evidence of the value of the work that theatres do. NESTA argues for taking a research-led approach:

We hope to have demonstrated through this study the benefits of that experimentation being research-led. That involves: upfront identification of clear research questions;application of rigorous research methodologies(quantitative as well as qualitative); and analysis of revealed (audience behaviour)as well as stated (surveyed) preferences.Using such methodologies, research studies can generate robust evidence to inform policymaking within institutions, amongst cultural funding agencies and in government 

This makes absolute sense and a welcome relief from the usual way in which the case is made for the arts, which draws implications from events and programmes after they have happened. Instead of a research led approach, evidence on the value of the arts is often rhetorical.

An example is the latest report from Demos which describes how the RSC has used its own principles of ‘ensemble’ to reform to its own organisation, implying an added value from its instrinsic artisticness. At 180 pages, it tells the story of this theatre’s organisational change process through documentation and observation. Its hard to see how this report benefits anyone other than the internal audiences at the RSC, like many other reports before it.

Surely its time to get more focussed about where to put research funding. Its time to ditch the observerational rhetoric and move to  research-led experimentation to add value.

iphone

Being a woman who is interested in the impact of digital media on our use of language and conversation, I was amused by an article by Stuart Jeffries in the Guardian last week about the way that the internet is changing our punctuation protocols and in particular the way we use exclamation marks!!

“exclamation marks – those forms of punctuation derided by the funless and fastidious – are making a comeback, thanks to an internet renaissance that is bleeding over into every form of written communication. Once it was bad form to end a paragraph with an exclamation mark. Now it’s borderline obligatory. Once it was enough to put a sign on your door: “Back in five minutes.” Now, without the flourish of an exclamation mark, that sign lacks verve or at least zeitgeisty voguishness. Go figure!”

This is one of several ways in which our digital media impacts upon our use of language. In Here Comes Everybody Clay Shirky compares the digital communications revolution to that of the printing press 500 years ago. Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type spawned a revolution in reproducing print, which impacted upon distribution and content. This innovation was followed by others. Manutius developed the format, printing the octavo size – smaller format which would ”fit in a gentleman’s saddlebags”. The new format allowed new content – in this case including novels with erotic passages.

Today’s communication platforms encourage two polarising trends in content – MORE and LESS. The MORE – publish then filter model – is what we are all involved in when we blog. And we are developing that more and more using Writetoreply for example – see write to reply pages for Art of With.

But its the LESS that interests me. The origin of LESS is SMS. The first years of txtg cr8d nu tk and new language, on the one hand because the text message had to be within a small number of characters to be charged as one message, and on the other because of the clumsy technology which required multiple tapping on small buttons. Not only was text language created but we also learned to think of smart and short ways to communicate. Increasingly we used marks which could communicate complexities and nuances. Think of the different meanings of the simple x when used in various configurations x, xx, Xxx or even XXXX! And of course emoticons.

But the 100 character text message, like the 146 character tweet, constrained conversation. So we needed an equivalent of Manutius’ innovation to allow nuanced communication.

Having been an Iphone woman for 18 months now, I now hold a  number of threads of conversation. Some will be the usual ‘wot time meet?’, ‘where ru?’, ‘good luck’ conversations. But there are several more which include words, ideas and thoughts which would never be emailed (too private and confidential) and never have been texted on an old phone (too nuanced, rich and unconstrained by length).   There are dialogues,drama and ipoems all of which have developed because of the platform and the format, better than the original text message. 

For me there are two specific aspects of the Iphone which contribute towards communicating essential meaning without being reductionist.

One is the record of the threads of conversation in the Iphone conversation – I now have several going back 18 months which show the relationships and themes developing. 

But the main thing is the physical act of messaging on Iphone – it just encourages flow

Actually I intend to publish  one of these conversations  I have had with Fiach Mac Conghail Director of the Abbey Theatre  as part of a narrative  about the Abbey and its essential roles and responsibilities as the National Theatre of Ireland. 

 But, as ever, most of  of my Iphone conversations remain strictly private, confidential and inaccessible.

Great to see that Black Watch was recognised at the Olivier Awards last night as best new play.  An accolade justly deserved for National Theatre Of Scotland, Greg Burke, John Tiffany and the actors and creative team.  Black Watch has won many awards but there are two aspects of the Olivier awards which make this unique.

Firstly, because they are highly prestigious,  awarded only to theatre in London,  the theatre capital of the world.  Black Watch was judged against plays in the West End, Royal National Theatre, Royal Shakepeare Company and other stars of the theatre world and found to be the best.  This award establishes NTS, only 3 years old, as a major player in the elite theatrical league.  And that matters for Scotland .  It was a leap of faith by the Scottish Government to create NTS as a non building based company.  The model came from the theatre community itself – it wasn’t a top -down policy driven venture.     And the most important decision that the founding board directors made (myself included) was to appoint the leader with the vision, to take the risk. In appointing the young English woman, VickyFeatherstone, as the first Director of NTS, we went against the expectation that we would appoint a more usual suspect. 

Secondly, the awards include categories for creative specialisms, recognising the importance of excellence in various specialisms which are part of the creative team.  In recognising Gareth Fry for Best Sound Design  and Steven Hoggett as  Best Theatre Choreographer, as well as John Tiffany as  Best Director, the Olivier judges are recognising the extended excellence of our team.

One of the key roles of a national theatre is to stimulate debate about contemporary issues through the presentation of world class theatre.  Both in Ireland and in Scotland, the national conversation inevitably includes expression of national identity. The Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s national theatre, has a 100 year history of presenting plays by Irish writers which reflect, as Yeats put it,  ‘the deeper emotions of Ireland’  and which comment on political issues through allegory, fable and myth.

After a period of stabilisation at the Abbey following a crisis three years ago, the Abbey is this year presenting major new plays by Irish and  international writers.  Marble by Marina Carr is on until 14 March and is a brilliant and disturbing play .   It has many layers of meaning.  None of them simple, all of them absorbing.  At simplest, its a play about modern marriage and the crime of ‘dying of an empty heart’.  Its about impending catastrophe, infidelity and the struggle between conformity to social mores and the need for creativity and self expression.

Sunday Independent review

But it can also be seen as an allegory for the economic turmoil in the Irish economy and the breaking of faith in the Celtic tiger.

Theatres rarely commission writers to order, to write about specific issues.  The writer has an idea for a play, a story in which there is drama and the great plays are those which catch the issues of the day.  Often the plays are commissioned and written before issues emerge.

Marina Carr’s epic play is complete without adding the additional lens of the possible end of a dream for the Irish economy but the timing is everything.

Black Watch, Gregory Burke’s international success for the National Theatre of Scotland was commissioned before the first SNP administration in Scotland and before the Black Watch were sent to Afghanistan.   A brilliant play and brilliant production, Black Watch’s popular, political and diplomatic success for Scotland has been intensified because of the timing of its production at a time of political change.

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