Although the level of cuts to the arts and culture vary across the wealthier nations of the world, the story of how they are applied is becoming familiar. Priorities for public investment in the arts are now focussed on three areas: 1. Funding the core, or what are sometimes called ‘frontline services’, 2 investing in cultural activity which is seen to have a demonstrable economic impact; and 3, initiatives which are politically driven, where a minister or local councillor can make their mark through targetted investment to meet key national or local objectives.
Scotland follows this pattern, in the context of a 5.4% reduction in the Scottish Culture budget and dark fears that some local authorities will withdraw arts funding in some areas. The Culture Minister, Fiona Hyslop MSP has fought the culture corner within Holyrood and maintains that the Scottish Government is committed to culture, even though culture has a higher cut than other areas of the budget. Giving evidence to the Education and Culture Committee scrutinising the budget in Holyrood this week, she referred to the challenges of protecting investment in culture while taking collective cabinet responsibility for delivering the Scottish Government’s ‘Single Purpose’, to grow the economy. Her priorities in the budget have been to protect what she referred to as ‘frontline services’, a term applied not only to the core revenue budgets of the national collections and national performing companies but also to the clients of Creative Scotland referred to as foundation organisations. These provide much of the back bone of cultural infrastructure throughout Scotland, although not all, as the previous Scottish Arts Council division between ‘foundation’ and ‘flexibly funded ‘organisations means that some important organisations are missing from the cohort Hyslop describes as the front line. One off investments include capital expenditure for the V & A in Dundee and in Glasgow music venues in time for the Commonwealth Games.
Marshalling all her arguments in support of contributing towards economic success, Ms Hyslop partly justified continued £10m investment in the Youth Music Initiative in terms of its contribution to the development of skills. YMI was an initiative introduced during the leadership of Jack MacConnell and Scottish Labour to provide free instrumental tuition to primary school pupils across Scotland in the face of a sharp decline and huge discrepancies in the services offered by local authorities, a scope since widened to include diverse projects to involve young people in music in community contexts.
The YMI fund is £10m annually, itself equivalent to 20% of the overall grant in aid received by Creative Scotland and, as a ringfenced fund, like the ‘front-line services’ is protected from the 2% cuts which Creative Scotland must manage. This puts it into the super -league of national performing companies, where funding is ringfenced and protected from cuts.
The arguments Ms Hyslop uses are wider than skills development. Such is the political commitment to this scheme that YMI is defined as a front-line service:
“At a time when Scotland is facing deep cuts in public spending imposed by the UK Government, my first priority has been to protect the provision of frontline services such as the Youth Music Initiative.By maintaining funding for this scheme, we are investing in Scotland’s young people. As well as fostering and developing their musical skills and unlocking their creative potential, the Youth Music Initiative teaches our young people to be innovative, resourceful, confident and responsible.
There can be do doubt that a universal engagement in music by young people has benefits to individuals and society, a view shared by the Scottish Government. But does the proportionately large investment in music signal a belief that investment in music has higher value to the public pound than investment in other areas?
All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music
Any such stratification is out of tune with the neo-egalitarianism which defines the public cultural community. Cultural leaders advocate for public investment wielding two blunt instruments: a combination of general statements about the transformational power of the arts and some often-dodgy evidence of economic impact thus avoiding the need for any competition with cultural colleagues.
But there is a handful of studies which have attempted to establish IF there is a relationship of cultural participation to well-being, studies which are based on an academic framework of enquiry as opposed to a gathering of evidence which can be spun in an argument.
The findings of these neutral studies can be controversial and unsettling. One of the common threads is that engagement in some art forms has a higher degree of impact on health and well being than others. This is particularly true for music.
The most recent of these studies looks at the relationship between culture and well being on the Italian ‘Happiness Index’. The Impact of Culture on the Individual Subjective Well-Being of the Italian Population by Enzo Grossi & Pier Luigi Sacco & Giorgio Tavano Blessi & Renata Cerutti, and the follow up data mining provides wide, deep, statistically robust and algorythmically athletic evidence.
The level of subjective psychological well being in 1500 Italians was measured by means of an index validated by decades of clinical practice: The Psychological General Well Being Index (PGWBI). The study concluded that, of all the social, economic, education, geographical and health factors which contribute towards well being health status and cultural consumption are the dominating factors that potentially affect well-being.
shows that the contribution of cultural access is not simply related to other well known determinants of subjective well-being, like levels of education, income, or age, as it is contended by conventional wisdom in the field
culture ranks third, right after (absence of) diseases and income, and turns out to be substantially more relevant of categories like age, education,gender, or employment,
The study looked at the differences according to the art form and found engagement with Jazz Concerts, Opera/Ballet,and Classical Music were much higher predictors of happiness than other art forms and that there were some activities for which high access entails a negative (though modest) impact, Poetry Reading and Cinema d’essai.
Classical music improves the Well Being Index score by 9.7%, and the more often the greater the benefit:
Whereas the same score for theatre is 2.38% and for visual arts its 3.89%.
As the authors point out, some of these results may have a particularly Italian flavour.
Such research moves on from the transformational arguments with cultural magicians sprinkling their fairy dust of engagement in the arts to bring vitality into the grey lives of recipients. It moves on from the instrumental. It provides empirical evidence that culture is linked to well-being and provides particular evidence of the positive relationship between health and happiness and culture.
But some culture is more equal than others when it comes to health and well being, as these studies suggest and that makes for uncomfortable reading for cultural leaders vying for public investment.