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cultural policies Scotland

Rainbow over Ushuaia, terra del fuego, Patagonia Argentina

 

For several years, the UK government was largely silent on its high level support for culture, while politicians in Scotland have been increasingly passionate, eloquent and publicly committed to the value of culture to Scotland.   In producing the Culture White Paper, David Cameron has, for the first time since Jennie Lee’s Policy for the Arts some 50 years ago, committed the UK government to some principles around culture. The Scottish Government has not yet committed to a high level statement of principles about the value of culture, despite consistent demand from the arts, heritage, screen and creative industries represented by Culture Counts, a group of 45 national, umbrella and membership bodies which represent the majority of professional and voluntary artists and cultural organisations in Scotland.

With the forthcoming elections for Holyrood, candidates speaking for culture might consider what sort of high level statement of principles for culture in Scotland we should have. This should start with the principle that cultural expression is an individual right and supports a better understanding of our own and others’ identities. A rights based approach is similar to some aspects of cultural policy in Nordic states and in keeping with the global movement in UNESCO towards recognising that culture is a human right critical for sustainable development. This reflects Scotland’s values more than the UK approach which is largely written from the perspective of the cultural and political establishment. And, in keeping with the governance of our small nation, the principles should enshrine culture across other policy areas.

The Cultural Value Project (CVP) has provided a comprehensive overview of the value of culture and pointed out where there is long term evidence of impact, for example, on the long term health benefits of cultural participation. A cultural statement of principles would support and encourage Scotland’s health bodies to embed cultural participation.

In the meantime , the UK Culture White Paper is the highest level policy statement we have and the PM’s support for equality of access to culture is welcomed, albeit seemingly as a consequence of his belief in public funding:

If you believe in publicly-funded arts and culture as I passionately do, then you must also believe in equality of access, attracting all, and welcoming all.

Rt Hon David Cameron MP

The White Paper lacks the  depth of principles contained in Jennie Lee’s paper, and is less of the comprehensive and high level policy document for culture which one might associate with a white paper. It focuses on institutions funded by government and on actions which will be taken by distinctive, and restricted parts of government and sets out a number of actions for reviews, reports and partnerships with other parts of the cultural establishment. Many of these are similar to actions governments have taken in the past as part of business as usual, for example, reviewing the Arts Council, working in partnership with the British Council, encouraging private investment, commissioning a report on ‘the key issues to be addressed to make the UK one of the world’s leading countries for digitised public collections’ content and so on.

The tone is rather grand..

it seeks to harness the nourishing effects of culture. It seeks to ignite the imaginations of young people, kindle ambition and opportunity and fuel the energy of communities.It seeks to spread the gifts of our arts, heritage and culture to more people, and communities across the country and abroad and free the creative genius that can make a better world for all.

And, while it obligates the general public …

Everyone should enjoy the opportunities culture offers, no matter where they start in life

..it does not obligate other parts of government, such as education, skills, health and wellbeing and social justice, where cultural participation has proven and sustained positive impacts on individuals and societies

Scotland’s statement of principles for culture should be broader, deeper and rights based. It should be underpinned by an outcome for culture . It should articulate the importance of culture as a public good, recognise the right to participate in culture and identify culture’s central role to an informed, engaged and healthy modern democracy, the glue that binds Scotland together.

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The Scotland Devolution Commission represents an important opportunity for the value of culture in a flourishing Scotland to be recognised by Holyrood and Westminster government, for the arts and  and culture to be further embedded in the civic life of Scotland and for artists to be involved in civic leadership and governance.

My job is to create a process through which politicians, civic institutions and the Scottish public can come together, work together and agree the detail of what those powers should be.

“To that end, I am working to one aim: to produce a unifying set of proposals by the 30 November 2014.

Lord Smith of Kelvin

The members of the Commission are two from each political party.  For those not in the tent, the way to have your say is to submit views by 31 October.

This is my submission:

The Scotland Devolution Commission represents an important opportunity for the arts and culture to be further embedded in the civic life of Scotland and for artists to be involved in civic leadership and governance.

Further, for both the UK and Scottish governments to recognise the value of culture to a flourishing Scotland.

In the years since devolution Scotland’s arts and culture have flourished and thrived. They have been recognised as being of high value to Scotland across many economic and social/civic spheres, bringing benefits to individuals, communities and the nation. These benefits include contributing to our sense of identity, to how we understand the world and to our international reputation and contributing to learning, health, wellbeing, confidence and quality of life for individuals and for our communities.
Artists have become recognised as having an important contribution to make to civil society and their voices and views have been increasingly sought in the period leading up to the referendum on independence.

In order for culture to play its full part in a flourishing Scotland, the Commission should consider four elements:

1. The enshrining of the value of culture to Scotland in any legislation and statement of principles which define in statute the Scotland settlement;

2. The use of fiscal instruments to support artists, the arts and culture;

3. The devolution of broadcasting to Holyrood;

4. The creation of a system for broader and more open leadership in Scotland than the current political system, including the involvement of artists.

1. Enshrining of the value of culture
A high level statement of principles stating Scotland’s values should be included in the legal documents enshrining the outcomes of The Scotland Devolution Commission. In tone this should be equivalent to a constitution.

These principles should enshrine the value of culture to a flourishing Scotland, stating simply that culture is core to Scotland’s people, our future, and that taking part in cultural life is a human right.

Cultural value should inform all policy areas to recognise the value of culture to a flourishing Scotland.

2. Use of fiscal instruments to support artists, the arts and culture

The Scottish Parliament should have powers to raise income tax, national insurance, corporation tax, inheritance tax, petroleum revenue and other taxes and fiscal instruments. With this, artists and culture should be supported in ways additional to the current system of subsidy.

In particular, there should be available a tax-free research and development allowance available for artists and entrepreneurs in culture and the creative industries. This could be based on schemes in other countries and also the Enterprise Allowance Scheme of the 1980s, which supported many artists and creative entrepreneurs including young people. (This differs from the current UK New Enterprise Allowance Scheme in several key aspects including age restrictions, business eligibility and duration).

There is additional potential to consider the use of other tax breaks including for investors in film and creative business in Scotland. Tax incentives used in other countries as a means to attract artists to reside in a nation, for example in Ireland, are not be as relevant to Scotland at this time.

3. Devolution of broadcasting

Scotland has its own culture, political system, institutions and history and there should be a greater devolution of broadcasting than is currently the case. The precise nature of this will need fuller consideration.

4. A system for broader and more open leadership involving artists

One of the major themes of the last few years and the referendum period itself has been the positive involvement of civil movements and the desire for a more inclusive democratic system in Scotland. I urge the Commission to be mindful of this and to consider the creation of a system for leadership in Scotland which is inclusive of civil movements including those involving artists. These movements, such as National Collective are not the type of constituted institutions which lend themselves to absorption into governance models where power is organised and controlled by political parties and civil servants and where systems of representation are dependent on the existence of constituted institutions.

Impact

These measures are presented as suggestions at a fairly high-level. Some need further consideration and appraisal. They have the potential to help Scotland flourish.

Lets hope that our views are heard, that we can become more involved in the future of Scotland and that the old political system doesn’t close the door on artists.

 

Tea cake dancers Glasgow 2014

Tea cake dancers Glasgow 2014

 

Policy makers are expert at posing leading questions and many in Scotland’s cultural sectors are equally expert at expressing views which go beyond narrow lines of enquiry. In my analysis for Cultural Trends of all the public consultation on matters of cultural policy undertaken by successive ministers, parliamentarians and publicly appointed commissioners since 1999, its clear that, no matter how firm the steer provided, artists and others who care deeply about culture in Scotland are clear and consistent about what matters. And that where those views seem unheard, they return during the next consultation, and the next until they are resolved. Those who value culture in Scotland may care to respond to the current public consultation on the Draft Independence Bill and the guts of a draft constitution by answering not only the questions posed but by asking for the value of culture to Scotland to be enshrined in the proposed draft constitution, as a right.

 

“What does culture mean to you?” and “What should be the aims of a cultural strategy?” were the first tentative questions posed in 1999 alongside a series of questions focussed on areas that the Scottish Executive considered to be the key elements of a national cultural strategy including structures, roles and interfaces between national institutions and local authorities; the creative industries; international relations; education; wider audiences; and ‘indigenous elements whether Gaelic or Scots’. No questions were posed in 1999 on those matters reserved to Westminster, several of which might be viewed as critical to any fully developed cultural policy, including broadcasting, foreign and diplomatic policy, the National Lottery and the use of tax incentives. However, the consultation, involving over 1000 individuals and organisations, elicited not only responses to the questions set but also views on areas of Westminster jurisdiction. There was strong support for the idea that Scotland might identify and celebrate its own culture, a concept unimaginable to many before devolution; for celebrating the past as well as imagining and planning for the future; and for the harnessing of disparate agencies and perspectives.

Beyond a unanimous agreement that increasing access to all aspects of culture to all people – especially young people – was a good thing, the responses to the set questions varied. There was broad consensus that the cultural agency infrastructure was uncoordinated and ineffective, that the absence of Scottish culture from the education system was not only conspicuous but had multiple negative impacts on Scots’ understanding and appreciation of their own identities and that a major overhaul of the international image of Scottish culture was required to reflect a diverse and contemporary Scotland instead of the ‘tartan and shortbread’ image generally perpetuated. Other, more specific areas generated fewer responses; however there was evident support for a review of the manner in which the national companies were funded and for the Scots language to be recognised alongside Gaelic and English.

There were varying perspectives on the definition of culture from a narrow focus on funding the arts through to a more anthropological understanding that encompassed lifestyles, value systems and beliefs, aligning with the definition offered by UNESCO. Less predictable at the time was the reaction to the phrase ‘creative industries’ that had increasingly begun to appear as a tenet of cultural policy led by DCMS. Offered an opportunity not afforded to their peers in the rest of the UK, the arts and cultural community in Scotland queried what was meant by the term ‘creative industries’ and its relevance to cultural policy as they understood it.

Perhaps the deepest and most complex issue to emerge during the consultation was around the intertwined aspects of the principle of encouraging the widest possible participation in culture and the relative responsibilities and resources of local authorities. The concept of ‘entitlement’ to culture appeared during this process, implying a citizen-led rights approach to the provision of culture. This concept resonated with the principle of equality of access which has been a longstanding key component of Scottish ethics, encapsulated during the Scottish Enlightenment and evoked in the regular comparisons with the Nordic States throughout the consultation . And whereas some respondents challenged the rhetoric of the creative economy, none challenged the view that access should be extended to all.

While arts, heritage, tourism and education were amongst those areas transferred, amongst those powers reserved to Westminster were broadcasting and foreign affairs. Of the key themes and issues identified, some were resolved, some superseded and some repeatedly aired and contested through a series of consultative processes, a cultural commission and three draft legislative bills. Those issues which were firmly within the domain of the devolved Scottish Parliament with regard to structures, education and language recognition were tackled over the next 14 years. Issues requiring the cooperation or consent of other authorities were more vexed and remain unresolved to a greater or lesser degree. For example, the issues around broadcasting, under the control of Westminster, was flagged up in 1999, with questions raised primarily around the quality and quantity of Scottish content rather than the underlying issue of control of channels.

Now the debate surrounding independence and the publication of the SNP’s white paper has seen a new shift in what some of Scottish politicians appear to view as the key terrain of cultural policy. The focus is increasingly moving to matters of communications and broadcasting and cutting free from the old staples of funding for the arts and the quagmire of contested definitions around creativity, creative industries and the creative economy that has been a hallmark of cultural policy in the last 10 years.

As there is no reference to a cultural policy in the White Paper, the value of culture should surely be enshrined in the statement of values. The draft independence bill published by the Scottish Government includes the guts of a draft constitution for an independent Scotland.

A written constitution is the basis of everyday life, setting out and protecting the rights and aspirations of the people of Scotland. It will be the highest and strongest of laws – a statement of the fundamental principles by which a country chooses to live, regardless of the political party in power

Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister Scottish Government in the foreword to the consultation on the Independence Bill

 

However, the draft has no reference to culture, whereas those of some other nations do, including those Nordic states to whom Scotland refers, for example in Sweden “The personal, economic and cultural welfare of the individual shall be fundamental aims of public activity” and the recent draft in Iceland “The government shall endeavour to strengthen the welfare of the country‘s inhabitants, encourage their culture and respect the diversity of the life of the people, the country and its biosphere”

The consultation on the constitution poses only six questions but states that  “The purpose of the Bill and consultation paper is to facilitate as wide and open a debate on the constitution of an independent Scotland as possible. Views on any matter related to the constitution of an independent Scotland are welcome, whether they are topics specifically mentioned in this paper or not.”

Culture is core to a flourishing Scotland and should be enshrined in any constitutionally-agreed statement of principles. The statement of value should state simply that culture is core to Scotland’s people and its future and that taking part in cultural life is a human right.

 

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reviving the 50p seat at Citizens Theatre 21012 - ©

In today’s highly codified and regulated subsidised arts sectors, all sorts of business and quasi-business behaviours are required. Strategies, plans, systems for delivering objectives and for measuring success are all extremely useful tools.  But in the days before market principles were applied to public expenditure, and before 25 years of increased public expenditure on the arts led not only to more investment in artists, arts activity and buildings but also to a proliferation of policy makers and monitors, there were far less requirements.  The weight of encouragement which public agencies provide to extol arts organisations to  ‘innovate’  , to improve or change their ‘ business models’ and to train their boards and leaders in being more ‘entrepreneurial’ and strategic, for example, could give the impression that arts leaders do not naturally do these things for themselves – left to their own devices.

But successful leaders in the arts have always taken risks and often demonstrated a razor-sharp instinct for business as an essential element of achieving ambitions to create great art and to attract audiences to enjoy and appreciate it.  Long before Glasgow had any cultural policy or arts development officers and when the Scottish Arts Council was a small organisation with a few officers, these was some serial innovation happening in the Gorbals under the direction of Giles Havergal, Philip Prowse and Robert David MacDonald.  Not only did they transform the Theatre artistically but they attracted an audience of a size and demographic mix which would turn today’s  ‘audience development’ agency green with envy.  The reputation of the productions was the greatest factor in this and there were also all sorts of experiments including the radical ‘All Seats 50p’ policy.  I have gone back to the box office and financial records to assess the effect of this and the detailed results are in this article for the Scottish International Journal of Theatre and Screen. This shows how, at the same time as its cheap seat policy,  the Citz increased and diversified audiences at the same time as increasing its box office income while also attracting additional subsidy and putting more money into the work.  It did this through some luck  and some clever tactics, not least an extremely commercial approach to its annual pantomime, for which the tickets were not 50p.  It was not all plain sailing, with the SAC at one point granting  the Citz 5% less than the other Scottish producing theatres on the ground that the Citz refused to increase its ticket prices. And subsequent innovations, like no advance booking, were less successful.

Havergal was a risk taker, refuse-to-take-no for an answer leader with a mission to produce and present great work for the audiences of Glasgow. The Citz directors did not use business plans or strategies to shape their innovation but rather an intuitive experimentation. The simple mantra for all innovation, whether artistic or business was, as Philip Prowse often said “Not to change in art is to die”. A ‘taught’ entrepreneur AKA a manager using established business tools and techniques, would not have considered a flat ‘low’ ticket price after what had been three years of growth in revenues and attendances. But for Havergal, there was no formal strategy, no management objectives, no annual review. “ I don’t think we knew what had happened. We just looked at the money we had for the year ahead”.

Havergal and Prowse did it to shatter the inherited mould of complicated ticketing and to see if that might attract more and different people. The experiment was successful not only in its contribution to attracting additional audiences but in achieving more income from public bodies. The Havergal regime led the way on innovation, income generation and audience development and the public funders followed. In today’s arts funding system which is heavy on policy, strategy, measurement and evaluation, could similar theatrical entrepreneurialism flourish?

Bella Caledonia c Alasdair Gray

After a very shaky and uncertain start, 2011 got better and better for culture in Scotland. At the beginning of the year, the cultural sector was braced for slashings and cuts and for possible political change with the associated churn of culture ministers and policies.  At the beginning of 2011, arts organisations in England were embroiled in the maelstrom of the Arts Council of England’s ground zero approach to creating a new national portfolio in the wake of major cuts from the Westminster government. For many in Scotland, with an ingrained memory of Scotland always being a step behind England  – as it always seemed to be before and in the early days of devolution – and within the uncertainty associated with the Scottish Government’s single year pre-election budget, similar swingeing cuts were anticipated.  Creative Scotland, although finally constituted, had still not produced plans and the cultural community remained  as cynical and sceptical as it seems to have always been.  And, pre the May elections for the Scottish Parliament, the stomachs of many in the cultural community sank, dreading yet another change of cultural policy and, perhaps, more, a new Culture Minister.  Before Fiona Hyslop took on the then junior role in 2009, there had been 9 Culture Ministers since devolution in 1999 and many a complimentary ticket and hour was spent trying to induct new ministers into the arts and culture in Scotland before the successor made an appearance.  With the prospect of yet another newbie, the cultural community deepened its apprecation of  Hyslop, who had proved energetic, politically astute, open minded and genuinely committed and conversant with culture in Scotland.

The shaky start of 2011 may have been the last judder in  the  Scottish Government’s  12 year  iterative expedition to express the public value of  culture to a devolved Scotland.  The territory was identified in 2003 by  Jack McConnell ‘s in his St Andrew’s Day Speech which was astounding as it was the first time that any senior politician in Scotland had even mentioned culture like they meant it, let alone expressed a political commitment to its value:

I believe we should make the development of our creative drive the next major enterprise for our society. Arts for all can be a reality, a
democratic right and an achievement of the 21st century. I believe this has the potential to be a new civic exercise on a par with health, housing
and education – the commitment to providing and valuing creative expression for all.

First Minister Jack McConnell, MSP; St Andrew’s Day 2003

The journey to placing culture “on a par” with health and education has been tortuous and has involved not only 10 ministers and a cultural commission but also the coming together of agencies and groups from across the whole spectrum of Scotland’s arts, culture and creative industries to form Culture Counts. Culture Counts has a simple purpose, that of ensuring that culture’s importance is reflected in the stated policies and objectives of both the Scottish Government and local government and its three requests in the lead up to elections were:

  • Culture and creativity is specifically included in any national outcome structure, strengthening  the framework for local authorities to support culture.
  • Maintain continued core investment for culture.
  • Maintain and develop incentives for growth through specific initiatives locally and nationally.

At the very end of December 2011,  its clear that the ground work has been completed at last.  The SNP ‘s success at the May elections have provided an overall majority and a clear mandate which has stoked further the confidence of Alex Salmond and an SNP leadership which is so comfortable with Scottish culture that artists, poets and writers are frequently cited in speeches and at Holyrood and adorn Christmas cards.  Fiona Hyslop has continued and her role has been promoted to Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, with Culture no longer seen as a junior post. Fiona Hyslop has listened to the arguments on the vital importance of being explicit about culture when it comes to the National Performance Framework.  And in the budget, culture has not been singled out for the greatest punishment as it appeared in England.

There were several important cultural announcements, openings and events in Scotland in 2011 including the openings of the Burns Museum , the revamped Scottish National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of Scotland;  the 5th birthday of the National Theatre of Scotland, the accession of Liz Lochead to the role of Makar; a a cultural exchange partnership with China. Further investment was announced for the new V and A in Dundee.

The quitest announcement is perhaps the most significant. A new national indicator, to increase cultural engagement, was announced as part of a review of the national performance framework, Scotland Performs.

Cultural engagement impacts positively on our general wellbeing and helps to reinforce our resilience in difficult times. Cultural participation is known to bring benefits in learning and education; there is a significant association with good health and satisfaction with life. Our culture is key to our sense of identity as individuals, as communities and as a nation. Maintaining the quality and diversity of our cultural offerings in conjunction with enabling a strong level of engagement with culture helps to promote Scotland on an international stage as a modern dynamic nation. These factors also encourage visitors to come to Scotland, creating and maintaining jobs in cultural tourism; and support the conditions for Scotland’s creative economy by encouraging creative industries to be leading edge in their field, particularly as part of maintaining and growing city economies.

Scottish Government December 2011

The new cultural indicator is one of 12 new priorities, the others being to: improve digital infrastructure, improve levels of education attainment, increase the proportion of babies with a healthy birth weight, increase physical activity, reduce deaths on Scotland’s roads, improve the responsiveness of public services, reduce children’s deprivation. widen use of the internet, improve end of life care, reduce pre-mature mortality and to mprove self-assessed general health.  The incorporation of the cultural indicator in a set which includes matters of life, death, education and the internet marks the coming of age of culture within the policy framework of the devolved government of Scotland.

The new indicators supercede a bunch of indicators judged redundant including that which fuelled the bonfire of the quangos on which the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen perished. Creative Scotland, under the leadership of Andrew Dixon, has published its first corporate plan, made lots of postive announcements and proved a champion for the arts, screen and creative industries. The corporate plan and the budget cuts will mean the end to ‘flexible funding’ and this Christmas over 60 organisations are preparing the case for survival. But quietly.   Dixon and Hyslop stand shoulder to shoulder waving the Scottish cultural flag in a sea of positive spin so powerful that the less positive stories are submerged and the artistic community is less negative than before on the whole with many leaders positive about culture in Scotland now.

Culture in Scotland is finally on a firm footing as we enter 2012. The focus for the cultural community is now shifting to local authorities where further cuts are looming, armed with the new national indicator for cultural engagement.  Culture counts in Scotland.

Violin cases: is the case for public investment in music greater
than for other cultural forms?

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?

Philosphers and critics including Walter Pater, and  Shopenhauer have argued that

All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music

(Walter Pater).

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.

The research

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:

Grossi Sacco et el: music and well being

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.

Homecoming Scottish Cup Cheerleading Team 

“Everyone is part of the cheering section”: Andrew Dixon  

There has been a lot of cheering for the arts, culture and creative industries in Scotland this week.  First we had the Scottish Government’s Government Economic Strategy GES  which identifies creative industries as  one of the six growth sectors.  GES aims to create an environment in which the creative industries can deliver economic growth for Scotland, some through general changes which will only happen if Scotland has more fiscal and taxation powers and some which are specific investments already announced though Creative Scotland.  In the GES, Culture Minister  Fiona Hyslop champions the sector for its growth and influence.

Then yesterday, Andrew Dixon, the cheerful CEO of Creative Scotland  met the Education and Culture Committee and was full of good new stories about the creative sector in Scotland and the achievements of Creative Scotland in its first year:

  • the business model works
  • 87 per cent of its current clients are satisfied
  • the move to new offices at Waverley Gate has been transformational
  • savings of £2m and ongoing savings of £1.5m which so far has been reinvested in the arts, film and television
  • staff numbers down from a high of 155 combined Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen to 95 now
  • new funds have been levered from Paul Hamlyn, Baring and McKendrick

In response to a question prompted by  Culture Counts’ campaign for culture to be made an explicit outcome in the Scottish Government’s performance framework, Andrew Dixon stated that local authorities  are THE most important partner for Creative Scotland.

Indeed. Creative Scotland is a significant but small part of the creative pie and local authorities spend almost twice as much each year on culture.

While the Culture Minister and Creative Scotland are cheering loudly, COSLA, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities,  the representative voice of Scottish local government, is largely silent on the importance of the arts, culture and creative industries.  COSLA lost earlier battles with the Scottish Government: it advocated for cultural entitlements during the Cultural Commission; it asked for a seat on the board of Creative Scotland and was granted neither.   While COSLA is a full partner in the Scottish Creative Industries Partnership  SCIP,  it does not promote an overall vision for arts, culture and creative industries in local government.  The danger of  this lack of leadership regarding culture is that vital facilities and provision may not be sustained and supported as public monies shrink further, except in several leading  individual authorites where there is a clear vision, evidence and understanding of the benefits.    Local authorities’ support for culture is neither obligatory, not being a statutory requirement, nor is it required by the Scottish Government.  The current National Performance Framework  Scotland Performs contain National Outcomes and National Indicators.  None of these are about culture.  Participation in cultural activity is measured by its instrumental value to achieve other outcomes.

All of these outcomes point towards achievement of the Scottish Government’s single ‘Purpose’ . That  ‘Purpose’ is ‘to make Scotland a more successful country, with opportunities for all to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth.’ .  For the Scottish Government, achieving economic growth is the key to everything else and will, amongst other things

stimulate higher government revenues and a virtuous cycle of re-investment in Scotland’s public services. and..  bring a culture of confidence, creativity and personal empowerment to Scotland.

Cultural participation in Scotland is vital to our creativity, identity, social cohesion, confidence and wellbeing.  Its value can not always be measured in monetary terms and it has a value beyond acting as an instrument to deliver Purposes or outcomes. This surely chimes with COSLA’s beliefs, as it considers culture as part of its  Health and Wellbeing portfolio. Let’s hear it.