Over the last few weeks governments in Scotland, Wales and Ireland have declared commitment to the value of the arts, culture and creative industries in recovery from recession, whether as a tonic for dented spirits, an antidote to an unbalanced life, to strengthen national cultural identity. ..or for international competitiveness.
The rallying call, particularly in Ireland, is expressed in the passionate tongues of art and culture more than in the lexicon of the more contemporary newspeak of the creative economy, smart economy and innovation on which many a paper has been written and on which a glut of autumn conferences will proclaim and chatter.
But winning the hearts and minds of national politicians is only one part of the equation, particularly in the UK where local authorities as a block represent the largest funders of the arts and culture, far larger than the arts councils, and are major providers as well of museums, libraries, theatres and art centres: owning buildings, supplying services and employing staff.
In Scotland, the arts community has been focussed on national structures of late, concerned to make sure that the new single agency Creative Scotland will be better than the Scottish Arts Council without any loss of funding for specific art forms.
In the meantime, local authorities are having to deal with accelerating and medium to long term reductions in resources and having to make cuts in services and reductions in staff. The arts and culture are not a statutory function. In Scotland, the Single Outcome Agreements with Scottish Government do not signpost arts and culture as first order services. So champions for the arts – artists, creative enterprises and their supporters need to get vocal at local level.
There tends to be a clustering of creative professionals in metropolitan areas, cities and some rural areas, as immortalised by Richard Florida and these are active, connected and articulate. Dublin Central Arts workers are becoming more and more political in their campaigning. In Glasgow, where Culture and Sport Glasgow has an annual budget of £96m (compare this with maybe £60m for Creative Scotland), audiences and participants exceeding 13m and a commensurately expert team to boot, the benefits of culture are being evidenced in terms of proven impact on health and wellbeing, demonstrating a politic approach to establishing local value.
But what is happening outside of creative cities and rural areas? In great swathes of Scotland, the arts and creative community is ever changing and without a local focus. Arts and creative people are natural nomads, moving to where the pastures are fertile. I am as guilty as the next creative professional, living in Fife for the meantime but without any professional roots in my community. Creative professionals who live in my area work in Edinburgh, Glasgow or Dundee running some of our major institutions, or write, make music and art all over the world.
We need creative hubs in all parts of Scotland, where there is a focus for the arts and creative communities. And we all need to get local.