30 years of Glasgow culture – growth, success and some overprovision

Way back in the 1980s, Glasgow began a campaign to reverse perceptions of the City through investment in culture and marketing.  The Glasgow’s Miles Better campaign was followed by a massive investment in culture peaking in 1990 when Glasgow was European Capital of Culture. The arguments for this investment were given an economic legitimacy by John Myerscough,  a pioneer of the very particular process of the art of measuring the economic impact of culture.  His 1988 Economic Importance of the Arts in Glasgow influenced generations of cultural economists and policy makers.

Myerscough has stayed the course with Glasgow and authored the  longitudinal study published this week by Glasgow Life, the  trust which is the direct descendant of  Cultural Services in Glasgow City Council. The report offers a 30 year perspective on Glasgow’s cultural provision, tracking the impact of the investment  and  its all about growth. More venues, organisations, events, attendances and employment are cited in a tale of sustained growth at proportionately less cost to the Glasgow taxpayer.

The report states

the  market for culture overall (excluding clubbing, cinema and libraries) increased by 45% from 1989 to 2008/09 and is 20% higher than at the early special peak in 1990.

The boosterism which began in Glasgow in the 1980s pervades this report, determined to demonstrate growth.  It measures more than before – literature events, participation, the creative industries and so on. The inclusion of events in the SECC and arenas makes up the largest portion of the increases in attendances and events. Glasgow has built new venues and has achieved and exceeded numerical targets. Glasgow’s reputation as an international home for visual and other creative artists has strengthened.

But there are indicators that parts of the market may now have reached saturation particularly in the area of theatre performance.

Since 1989 the number of performances in theatres has risen by over 100% from 987 to 1993 in 2008/09.  The attendances over the same period have risen by 52% from 58,880 to 893,000.  This suggests that the market has peaked and there are too many theatre performances in Glasgow.

Both producing theatres  – the Citizens’, the Tron and the Arches – and receiving houses have doubled the number of performances:

But while the receiving theatres have seen their attendances up by 75%, the producing theatres are down by 12%, so we see audiences being spread thinner, smaller average attendances and a very challenging economy where the subsidised producing theatres are putting on more and more work for less and less people.

But its the Citizens’  Theatre data which distorts this picture. The Arches and Tron have increased both performances and attendances while the Citz has kept up its number of performances but with an audience half of what it was 30 years ago.  The average of 55,000 attendances lost over each of the last three years compared with 30 years ago have gone elsewhere – some to the receiving houses, some to the Tron and the Arches and some to other pursuits. With a new artistic leader about to appointed at the Citz, there is the chance that the hearts and minds of the Glasgow public can be regained but this might not be manifest in the measures constantly described over the last 30 years.  The Citz in its heyday was brilliant but did not have to compete with the Arches, Tramway or ATG running the Kings’ Theatre and Theatre Royal.

So what’s next for Glasgow?   Thirty years after describing cultural investment primarily as a driver for economic growth, Myerscough concludes:

The prime benefit that the City gains from its cultural sector can be seen in the energy and stimulus given to daily life in the City, the pride and self-confidence generated in Glasgow and Scotland, the points of aspiration provided for young people, and the spiritual ease which can be delivered for all through engagement with the arts

The period of quantitative growth has ended and the next period must be about quality and diversity not just about numbers. Maybe its time to lay the longitudinal study to rest or at least to reduce the constant numerical comparison between 1990 and today.

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