Archive

cultural policy

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.

Advertisements

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.

 

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.

Graven Image Design of Croft Lampshade in Harris Tweed wool cloth for Harris Tweed Hebrides

Creative Scotland has set out its stall in its first corporate plan, Creative Scotland presents an ambitious vision for Scotland’s arts, culture and creative industries – supported by additional funding.  The core Treasury financing of some £35.5m is maintained this year as well as £14.5m of Scottish Government funds for specific initiatives like the Expo fund which supports Scottish work at the Edinburgh Festivals. These funds are topped up with some unspent reserves accumulated during an investment hiatus as the new body took shape. The coffers are further swollen by the reinstatement of lottery funding after the diversion to the Olympics and a significant saving on overheads achieved by the creation of the new agency and the abolishment of its antecedents, The Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, achieving annual savings of £2.4m through streamlining systems and a reduction of 30% in staff.  That is topped off with the attraction of funds from the Paul Hamlyn and Baring Foundations signalling the intent of the new organisation to attract additional funds to achieve its ambitions.

 

Creative Scotland has a much wider perspective than its predecessors with both a cultural and economic remit across the arts, culture and creative industries to encompass new sectors including the games industry and fashion alongside broadcasting, film, visual and performing arts and literature. That wider remit brings greater responsibility and influence but not more cash, so Creative Scotland has to lead partnerships with other investors like Scottish Enterprise to achieve its ambitious aims, among them to see a growth in Scotland’s cultural economy that exceeds the UK average and to achieve the highest levels of participation in the arts in the UK.

Its plans for using the funds over which it has direct control signal a fundamental shift in how funding is applied.  The Scottish Arts Council, resembling the traditional 20th century arts council model, distributed funding to arts organisations and sometimes, but in a much smaller proportion, directly to artists.  Creative Scotland will use its funds to deliver strategic priorities and to commission activities designed to achieve these priorities.  This fundamental shift means that more than 50% of the organisations funded by the Scottish Arts Council are in a pool which will vanish.  Currently £18.2m is provided to 51 Foundation Organisations and £8m is provided to 60 Flexibly Funded Organisations and this category will disappear to be replaced by strategic commissioning. This is bound to cause alarm amongst the Flexibly Funded Organisations, whose ranks include, for example, the Print and Sculpture Studios in Edinburgh whereas the Glasgow equivalents are included in the Foundation Organisation category, supposed to represent the cultural backbone of the country. And the term ‘strategic commissioning’ sends shivers down the spine of many arts organisations with cries that its all too woolly.

That alarm will be compounded if Creative Scotland does not have the cash which it projects after 2011. While Creative Scotland sets out a ten year aspiration and a three year budget, it can’t commit beyond this year.  The current Scottish Government budget is a pre-election budget and is for one year only.  With elections for the Scottish Parliament this May, which of the contesting parties will commit to funding Creative Scotland’s plans?    In Scotland we have a sort of optimism  since devolution and our current government is clearly committed to culture as an essential element of  Scotland’s international success and home happiness – hence Creative Scotland felt it could present as the default case a continuance of arts funding.  But its not in the bag and we need to see the commitment from all the parties to our cultural funding before May.

In appointing Liz Lochhead as the Makar of Scotland, the Scottish Government has not only selected a popular and accessible poet but has also defined the role. Liz Lochhead will have a role in promoting Scottish literature at home and internationally as announced by Scottish Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop . This makes absolute sense and Liz Lochhead, modest, personable and very much her own person, should be brilliant at this.  In her first offical engagement,  she opened  the Robert Burns  Birthplace Museum in Alloway, and read not one of her own poems but brought to life Burns’ own  epitomal Tae a Mouse through reciting it.  And, as she wrote, poets need no laurels..

Poets need not

be garlanded;
the poet’s head
should be innocent of the leaves of the sweet bay tree,
twisted. All honour goes to poetry…. (more)

The announcement of the details of her role has been made at the same time as the rejection of some of the proposals made by Scottish Literature Working Group.  This group was convened before Creative Scotland was established and before the full implications of our empty public coffers were understood. It had some good ideas, strongly waved the flag for literature but got a bit tangled up in its ideas for structures.  One of its key proposals was for a Scottish Academy for Literature but this has been shelved in favour of a suite of activities and advocacy by Creative Scotland working with Liz Lochhead in her role as Makar.

The power of the single artist, the poet, the piper, the painter is often greater than that of the public policy or institution.  Scotland should empower its artists and the public agencies should work alongside and behind them. For the Makar to play a role as a champion for literature in Scotland makes more sense than new structures and institutions for now.


Poetic Licence: Poetry on entrance to Scottish Parliament

The final player in the UK’s national cultural purseholders showed its hand last week as the Northern Ireland Assembly published its draft budget which includes a reduction to the Department of Arts and Culture of 9.4% over four years at the same time as increasing funds to the film industry. Each of the UK nations and administration has published their budget figures using different time frames and levels of detail. And in making their points about the significance of these figures, each cultural agency and government has described the cuts from particular angles using selected statistics. The choice of statistics illustrates the arguments but don’t necessarily chime with the published facts.  

Each of the administrations and governments in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Stormont have a different way of describing, organising and managing the arts, culture, heritage and the creative industries and none of the countries’ cultural budgets contains the same elements as another.  For example, the Welsh and Gaelic languages are within the two nations’ cultural budget, in Wales culture is grouped under heritage, in England its under Culture Media and Sport which also has a major UK remit as well as the particularly English Arts Council, and so on.

Some of the governments have flexed their biceps in a muscular illustration of the arms’ length principle, notably in Wales and brutally in England, where the Arts Council as well as DCMS and others have been put on a crash diet to drastically reduce its corpulent body.

Some have eliminated capital spending while others have ringfenced flagship projects like the V & A in Dundee. Some talk about cuts in real terms while some describe them in nominal terms.  Hence ACE describes its cuts as close to 30% in real terms over the next four years while the Welsh Heritage Minister compares them in the nominal term of 20% – both to make a particular point.

There are elections next May in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland but its only in Scotland, where we have a minority SNP administration, that a budget has been set for one year only. Therefore the only figures which can be compared across the four administrations is that of the one year budget for 2011 – 2012  and for the arts councils only in England, Wales and Scotland as the Northern Ireland Arts Council draft budget has not yet been announced.

According to the published figures for the budgets, the arts budget in Scotland is down by 10% but has been presented by both Culture Minister and the new body Creative Scotland as a standstill budget. Creative Scotland having already achieved efficiency savings and having taken on a role across the creative industries, has held on to its ‘core’ budget of £35m but the overall arts budget is down some 10%.

Welsh Heritage Minister, Alun Ffred Jones, stated “The relative priority accorded to arts funding recognises the important contribution which arts bodies can make .. the reduction of 4.6% in arts funding in Wales over the next three years compares favourably with the UK Government’s announced cash reduction to the Arts Council of England of approximately 20% over four years”.

The published figures for 2011 -2012 show ACE down 14% and Welsh arts down 4%.

The published statistics bear only a limited comparison. But what can be compared is the way in which governments and administrations and arts councils and all describe the value of the arts and the significance of the cuts.

It’s begun. The new coalition government has made the first slashes into public expenditure, culture is not exempt and nor is the Arts Council of England.  A 4% cut  – or £19m on top of the £4m already cut this year is likely to be the forerunner of more to come.  So how will ACE respond ?  Having already gone through the pain and considerable expense of slimming and restructuring, reducing administration costs by £6m, ACE will hardly have the stomach to cut deeper into its own body. By implication, ACE is now the lean organisation it needs to be and hence it is now likely that cuts will be made to artists and arts organisations.   But there are choices.  The Arts Council could prioritise the core arts community, the people involved directly in making art and creating artistic experiences with audiences, and cut back on the peripheral for this next period.  The peripheral includes the bulk of subsidiary development agencies and the Arts Council’s own initiatives, programmes and overheads attached to this stream.  This would mean the Arts Council returning to its core purpose and relinquishing the role it has enjoyed during the fat years, that of being a  ‘development agency’.

The Arts Council is widely understood to be a funding body, aligned to its purpose in the 1946 Royal Charter ,  “to develop and improve the knowledge, understanding and practice of the arts and  to increase accessibility of the arts to the public ”.   At some point over the last few years, the Arts Council restated its purpose as to ‘develop, promote and invest’ in the arts in England, presumably as a result of directions from DCMS, whose funding agreement with ACE sets out objectives including “To be an authoritative development agency”.    To many in the arts community, this extended role looks like mission drift,  and an argument for the large organisation ACE has become.  All would agree that the investment role is core and most that the promotion role is pretty important, reflecting the aims set out in the Royal Charter.  During the 90s and 00s the development role was important in building up capacity, infrastructure and resources through the capital lottery programme, leadership training and increasing skills and resources.  But that was then and this is now.  We now have the buildings, the organisations and the skills we need to support artists to make art  and to engage with audiences  complemented by the establishment of Creativity, Culture and Education (CCE) to stimulate creative engagement across the board.  For the most part, we have a strong and confident professional arts sector clear about its ambitions, purpose and how to go about its business and one which is perfectly able to respond directly to any strategic priorities required by the Arts Council as the agency of government funding.     

So should ACE be a ‘developer’ at times when public expenditure needs to contract?  No, it should use its strategic powers and intelligence to determine what ‘development’ is truly essential and look to the core arts community to deliver it, devolve budgets to arts organisations and  reduce short term initiatives.

Arts, culture and creativity are essential for the UK during this period of revaluation.  So it is more important to focus, to fund artists and sustain the artistic eco-system  than for public bodies to act as developers.

John Maynard Keynes set up the Arts Council: ‘to give courage, confidence and opportunity’ to artists and their audiences. At times like these, that will best be achieved by setting strategic priorities,  and by championing and advocating for the arts not by delivering and funding a plethora of distracting development initiatives and their associated machinery.