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Viewing Platform at Collective: Simon and Tm Bloor

The arts, culture and creative sector in the UK are amongst the most devastated by the results of the vote to leave the EU on Thursday.  Leaving Europe does not only have negative implications for trade, attracting talent and for EU funding, but, more insidiously, reverting to apparently splendid isolation strikes at the heart of the value to culture of international collaboration and exchange.   Cultural exchange within Europe has become a defining element of how the arts in the UK operate and an industry in itself.  The opportunities for European funding through collaboration have led to many productions on art house stages.  Associations such as the Informal European Theatre Meeting (IETM) have become essential networking events for the sector.  But this breakaway from Europe offers a pause to reflect on how the UK arts community should collaborate internationally.  Freed from the obsession with Europe, could we exchange more globally and meaningfully?

 

I have oft found myself in international think tanks and conferences  to consider cultural policy  in privileged surrounds including on one occasion on the country estate of Ingmar Bergman. I chaired a three day session on Trust for IETM in Dublin. Each time, the participants have been largely European culturatti with regular doses of Australians and Americans.  The presbyterian in me gnaws at me in these sessions, concerned that we are talking only to ourselves.

 

International cooperation and understanding is critical for the arts and culture.  At this time, when families drown in the Mediterranean or are marooned with a blanket between 6 and no water, that cooperation has to go beyond Europe.

I have no idea how much the UK would have extra for culture in the Brexit fantasy maths scenarios.  But lets imagine that its at minimum £5m pa (based on the current €1.46 billion allocated by  Creative Europe with admin costs of 20% divided by 28;  there are several other funds which could be identified and added to this).  The likelihood is that a fraction of this would be allocated to cultural diplomacy just as it is now through the British Council or other government agencies, with international projects taking place in those countries deemed economically and politically important.

But what we really need is for our artists to exchange with artists in countries where we do not understand, in Africa, in the Middle East.  Its difficult to imagine artists having that much influence within Westminster’s current democratic system and Whitehall’s control of funds.

While the cultural sector is the most organised its ever been, with the  Federation of Creative Industries clearly advocating to remain in the UK, its now apparent that lobby groups and industry bodies are not enough to bring about change or to make our voice heard.

In Australia, where there is PR, artists are seeking to contribute in full through standing for election.  The Australian party for the arts reminds us of Plato’s warning:

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors

 

 

Here in Scotland the vote  to leave Europe has additional and more profound implications. We want to remain. Our values are increasingly different to those of parts of England and we hope that a solution will be found for us to remain in Europe.  But we could benefit also from a wider interpretation of internationalism.

The Edinburgh International Festival was begun after the  Second World War to provide ‘a platform for the human spirit’, aiding peace, international understanding through great art.

Scotland  needs to work in and beyond Europe, and beyond official cultural diplomacy to create new platforms in this fractured world.

photo of Scottish Parliament courtesy of   e-architect.co.uk

The verdict on the success of 10 years of devolution in Scotland this week is that it has been a succss with a Times poll published today demonstrating that 70% of voters believing it has been good for Scotland.  And that is how it feels.

The verdict on impact of devolution on culture is not so easily measured. The last 10 years have seen two administrations and 8 (or is it 9) Culture Ministers, some confusion around cultural policy and a preoccupation with structures.   But despite that, devolution in Scotland has been an enormous boost for our confidence in our culture in Scotland and this confidence is growing.  And there have been some stars.

The most significant date in devolution for those of us in the arts was St Andrews Day 2003 when the then First Minister, Jack McConnell gathered us to hear his St Andrew Days Speech when he declared the vital importance of culture and the arts to Scotland.  We in the arts in Scotland were flabbergasted to hear our senior politician committed and passionate about the importance of culture, having spent years advocating to seemingly deaf ears.  And the centrality of the arts, creativity and culture to Scotland is now a truth, forming a core part of political manifestos before the last election and is promoted by the First Minister.  Our creative talent, and our engagement in arts and culture are vital elements of our global and local success,  for the expression of our cultural identity and the competitiveness of Scotland’s creative economy.  And there is no doubt that this political recognition has engendered a growing confidence in the arts, culture and creative industries, not just from those of us in the sector but throughout Scotland.

There has been a lot of consideration on policy and structures and the role of intermediary cultural agencies especially Creative Scotland and other bodies within Scotland- local authorities, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise. 

We have also began the interrogation around policies in areas of culture and the creative industries where Scotland does not have devolved powers and where Westminster influences dominate, including in broadcasting with the Scottish Broadcasting Commission  and in international cultural policies with the British Council.   All of this interrogation is a necessary early years process of defining how Scotland can best deliver culturally and creatively although  the inward focus and delay in establishing structures has led to some weakened connections between Scottish and UK agencies as well as frustration in the sector.

The issues of tax varying and tax raising powers is also an element which impacts upon cultural and creative policy, with solutions still to be found to support calls and commitments to fund artists and support the games industry in Scotland.

So, while this is all unfolding, its worth highlighting some of the stars. The stars have been big artistic ideas from the creative community in Scotland, whose time has been right and where these ideas have been backed and supported by the Scottish Government, without need for developing top down policies.  These include the support for the Artists Rooms and National Galleries of Scotland  .  The brightest star is the National Theatre of Scotland.  The demand for this, and the model for the non building based theatre, came from the Scottish theatre community.  The time was right and the idea was backed by the Scottish Government.

Mike Russell, the Minister for Culture is demonstrating clarity, confidence, understanding and a drive for action.  If he can establish the policies and deliver the structures, we can look forward to the next years of devolution really celebrating and supporting culture and creativity in and for Scotland with yet more of our stars in the ascendant.