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.

Matthew Paris’ map of Great Britain. St Albans, c.1250 British Library Cotton MS Claudius, f.12v Copyright © The British Library Board

At the State of the Arts Conference last week, a last minute switch led me to being part of the panel discussing Has Britain Got Any Talent for Talent? instead of a session on the public and the arts. Thinking about it, I realised that I was being asked to consider two concepts which were largely fuzzy.  One was the notion of ‘talent’ itself, given its current diverse use to mean anything to young performers, staff in a corporate organisation, contestants in a talent show and to anyone who works in the screen industries;  and as applied to the individual gift each of us has in life. And its overuse in the public sector applied to skills and employment as in Creative Britain: new Talents for the New Economy.  Which brings me to the other fuzzy concept, that of ‘Britain’.  ‘Britain’ is properly neither the UK, which is Great Britain and Northern Ireland, nor Great Britain, which is England Wales and Scotland, not the British Isles which includes the whole of Ireland.

Britain includes nations where cultural policy is devolved and, in Scotland, so are many other powers including education, but neither fiscal policy nor tax raising powers.  So, within the broad canvas of Britain and Talent, some areas are less British and more Scottish.  The importance of supporting, celebrating and rewarding artistic talent as an expression of cultural identity is less and less of a British issue and more of a national one for the devolved nations, particularly in Scotland.

Many Scottish creatives and artists now identify as Scottish and /or Scottish British as opposed to British. They compete, exhibit, perform and trade on international platforms and the best are awarded British and international prizes, like Richard Wright and Carol Ann Duffy.

The symbiotic relationship between artists and cultural identity is enshrined in many international policies and the recognition and support of a nation’s artistic and creative talent has a higher value to small and emergent nations.

And, for those artists who may not be commercially successful – the poet, the painter – the greatest recognition can come from the state.

In 1969 Charles Haughey, the then Taisoch of Ireland, closely advised by the writer Antony Cronin, made changes to state policy which signalled to the world the importance of artists to the independent state of Ireland, through the introduction of three things:

1 the exemption from income tax from creative content and products – paintings, composition, books, etc .This was later capped and is now under threat again as Ireland fights severe economic crisis.

2. tax incentives for investors in the Irish film industry, in a move which has had long term economic impact

3. the establishment of Aosdana, the academy of recognised artists, where being a member confers recognition and reward

Not only have these measures contributed towards Ireland’s international artistic success and reputation but they have engendered a respect for artists as leaders. In the bloody fighting in Ireland over the funds in a decimated public purse, the arts sector has fought and won through a brilliant campaign. Using  hard evidence about the sector’s economic contribution of €11.8 billion or 7.6% of GDP was one weapon which saved the Film Board, Culture Ireland and 94 per cent of the arts budget.  Another was the impassioned influence of artists who campaigned publicly or who gave evidence to political committees, including Sebastian Barry, Joseph O’Connor, Colm McCann, Colm Tobain to Brendan Gleeson, given prime place in the Dail and the media as respected leaders, confident, assured and celebrated.

While other countries have made some tax concessions for artists, no other country has made such a major statement about the importance of artistic talent to its cultural identity.

For Scotland, recognising, celebrating and supporting its artistic talent is a key component of cultural policy, a devolved power. As a small country, recognising the talent may be relatively easy.  But the powers to support that Scottish talent is limited by  Westminster.  The current minority SNP administration is committed in principle to tax exemptions for artists but does not have the fiscal autonomy to do this.   Our world leading talent for interactive games in Dundee has watched its competitive position weaken as France, Canada and now Ireland offer tax incentives.

The Scottish Government is bringing forward the Referendum Bill to support greater devolution of such matters. Fiona Hyslop, the Culture Minister, said yesterday

“Artists and creators often hold up a mirror to society, reflecting back the experience of belonging; nowhere more so than in Scotland, where our distinctive cultural life is known the world over.

“I firmly believe that a Scotland with more control over its own affairs – a Scotland more confident in itself – would see fresh creativity shine through as a result. In turn, a more confident nation leads to an even more creative one – a virtuous circle of increasing confidence and creativity.

“There is a hard edge to this, of course, as Scotland trades on the international recognition of its culture and heritage. It is a major attraction for visitors and showcases our country as a diverse and exciting place to live and work; so increased confidence and creativity can only be good for business.

Artists in Scotland have an important role to play in the success of the nation as well as in the UK – sorry – Britain,  and internationally.  And political recognition with visible backing is essential.

There was a diversity of creative business leaders at last week’s C&binet Forum.  As well as global industry leaders from Google, Spotify, EMI, Vivendi and many other major media leaders, publishers, content providers and distributors, there was a rich smattering of creative entrepreneurs (mostly not wealthy either because they work in community creative enterprises, or simply because they are emergent).  So both the formal sessions and informal chats were driven by an energy and passion around change and improvement to maximise the impact of UK creativity.

The ‘arts’ did not emerge much during the formal discussions, perhaps due to the domination of the copyright agenda. Twice they were mentioned, once by the CEO of  DACS and once by Colin Tweedy of Arts and Business who was given short shift by the panel talking about investment, who were interested in profit not patronage.  In their mind, music , publishing and games fell clearly under the remit of the creative economy, but subsidised arts did not.

This division is one which some of our artists and subsidised arts organisations feel comfortable.  It provides  some necessary protection and a space for the state to encourage the vital support of individual artists and arts activity which cannot and should not be commercial.  The metrics of the arts are not only (if at all) commercial but are educational, social and cultural, promoting well being, cultural identity, individual growth and community cohesion – as well as , most importantly, provoking ideas, thoughts and revelations.

But not to engage in the fast moving change  around the way we communicate and interact in the digital age  could be a catastrophic mistake which threatens some subsidised arts organisations with irrelevance and possible extinction.

And its not about using Twitter as a marketing tool.

The key areas are around interacting with audiences and around 21st century business models.

In terms of interaction, the massive increase in people interacting through games must surely given some ideas to arts organisations – especially those involved in drama and music – some scope to review current products and seek new collaborative methods of creating work.

And as for 21st century business models   – its all about Freemium and upselling.

The leaders of some arts organisations engage in the challenge and break through the aspic of subsidy.  Watershed, for example, in its Ished project is about to embark on creating theatre with participants through mobile technology. Cornerhouse through the Art of With is at least asking the questions about collaboration with users in curation and programming.  But the examples are few and far between.  In the mainstream of subsidised arts, the production and presentation of work is entirely led by the visions and drives of the artists at the top, and the machinery around that is concerned with realising the artistic ambition and attracting an audience for it.

So does it matter? Maybe subsidised theatres and arts centres are simply the organised versions of individual artists who create work for arts sake and damn the audience?

A colleague , faced with the evidence which demonstrated the type of work which would attract larger and more diverse audiences, and noting the artistic director’s disdain, described the ‘salon  theatre’ with which that organisation was engaged.

Personally, I think that is a great pity.  I, like many, discovered the arts with a little help from the library, my dad’s work night out to the (variety) theatre, and school trips.  A typical child of the ‘C2DE ‘ household with no books, art or music, the arts unfolded as I began my journey of discovery.

Subsidised arts organisations should encourage the discovery of today’s youngsters and engage with their equivalent of libraries and works socials – social networking and gaming as well as intense engagement in education.  Or else adopt the the model of supply-led theatre and arts, the ‘salon’ and make the case for investment for other reasons – the arts are, after all, good for your health, well-being, community cohesion and sense of self.

If that is the case, individual arts organisations will need to have their evidence ready.  We have less and less public expenditure available.  And government, particularly if the Conservatives win the next election, get it about business models.  Barnet Council’s freemium model could, if extended, mean that the arts and culture are an additional extra for tax payers.  And will they pay for salon theatre?