Archive

Culture Counts

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

Peter Doig;Canoe-Lake c Saatchi

The period of reflection after the rapids to the referendum is open-ended but the scope and pace of the Smith Commission suggests that the arts and cultural community need to focus efforts immediately to build on its leadership role in shaping Scotland’s future.

The impact of the binary process of the referendum where the only voting choices were yes or no is more profound than the results of the votes, with 97% voter registration and 84% turnout. Artists have been deeply involved, and their influence recognised across civic society in Scotland, not only at an individual level but through movements such as the National Collective with its 2000 members.

Lord Smith of Kelvin has stated that the process of his Scotland Devolution Commission will involve wider civic society and not just representatives of political parties. This has the potential to be a forum for a leadership effort in Scotland wider than the pre-referendum traditional power system, where politicians and business leaders make decisions based largely on economics. Much of the recent debate has been around the values people in Scotland share to a higher degree than the aggregate whole of the rest of the UK. These are about fairness and equality, which influence our culture and identity, and leadership in these areas comes not just from the traditional powers but also from the third sector, unions and the cultural community.

The arts and cultural community, so engaged during the referendum debate through movements such as the National Collective now need to be involved in a wider civic participation in Scotland’s constitutional reform. Culture Counts, the grouping of umbrella organisations and agencies across the wider arts, cultural and heritage sector in Scotland, is advocating for the value of culture to be enshrined in constitutionally-agreed statement of principles, stating simply that culture is core to Scotland’s people and its future and that taking part in cultural life is a human right. Business leaders have already pitched in to suggest that the “touchstones of the new devolution settlement must be boosting business and growth”.

What has emerged during this recent period is that Scotland’s values are wider than the economic. The Smith Commission is an important opportunity for both the UK and Scottish governments to recognise the value of culture to a flourishing Scotland.

At the same time, we need to pick up our connections, exchange and collaboration with the arts community in other parts of the UK, recognising common cause with political movements such as What Next.

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.