|CELEBRATING SCOTLAND: A NATIONAL CULTURAL STRATEGY|
The Royal Society of Edinburgh is pleased to respond to the Scottish Executive Education Department’s consultation on Celebrating Scotland: A National Cultural Strategy. The RSE is Scotland’s premier Learned Society, comprising Fellows elected on the basis of their distinction, from the full range of academic disciplines, and from industry, commerce and the professions. This response has been compiled with the assistance of a number of Fellows from a variety of disciplines with an interest in this area.
The specific questions identified in the consultation document are addressed below:
What does culture mean to you?
The consultation document, however, lacks a clear vision of the place of the history of scientific, mathematical, medical, industrial and engineering progress and invention within Scottish culture. Modern philosophers of science recognise it as an intimately human kind of activity, fully influenced by the personalities and types of lives led by its protagonists. For example, of special relevance to Scottish achievement shown in the historical record are the Scottish Enlightenment period (e.g. Colin Mclaurin, Joseph Black, James Hutton, and Adam Smith); the mathematical physicists of the late C19 (e.g. William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), James Clerk Maxwell, and P.G. Tait); and the 19th and 20th century revolutions in physics, chemistry and biology and medicine (e.g. D’Arcy Thompson, Lister, and Boyd Orr). To-day Scotland is a place where some very advanced technologies are being developed and these are also part of cultural heritage in the making.
What should be the aims of a cultural strategy?
A National Cultural Strategy will need to be reactive to the needs of the arts and artists, to be flexible, and to allow for natural growth in some areas and contraction in others. It should not permit the ossification of the arts in an historical mould, but take into account shifts in centres of creative excellence over time. A cultural policy must therefore be sensitive and reactive to those changes and never seek to be prescriptive and dogmatic.
How are these aims to be met? Do we have the right mechanisms and structures?
What should be the link between the National Institutions and National Performing Arts Companies and local authority provision?
There would also be merit in improved central control over rare books held in local authority libraries. At the present time a number of nationally important books have been lost from these libraries. A National Cultural Strategy might be able to create an acquisitions policy, whereby particular libraries would receive subsidies to buy in specific areas (e.g. St. Andrews and the National Museum for decorative arts and the National Gallery for Renaissance Art). This would guarantee that scholars, researchers, and the wider audience interested in specific areas could find the major journals and texts somewhere in Scotland rather than being forced, as is currently the case, to travel to London or elsewhere to find their source material. A national catalogue, with a dedicated Website could provide an overview of the holdings and could be linked to the catalogues of collaborating institutions. A model for this might be the Staatsbibliotheken (state libraries) of the German Länder, whose specialist holdings are focused on different areas (Berlin for natural science, Hesse for biology, Bavaria for law etc.), which avoids duplication while making certain that all subjects are covered in depth somewhere in the system. Some of the libraries housed in Scotland’s stately homes (e.g. National Trust Properties) could be accommodated in such a model.
How can Scotland’s culture better exploit new technologies?
For artists, it could mean wider dissemination of their work, particularly for writers, although there are copyright issues to be addressed. Too often even after a successful production, a playscript ceases to be in the public domain. Second productions are rare, for scripts are not easily accessible. There are some enlightened publishers who have brought out several worthwhile collections. There are, however, many more worthwhile scripts available for distribution. A "Scottish Plays" Website could be established and every new Scottish Play "registered" by title, dramatist, characters, synopsis. A second stage would be scanning in the full script which could be available, subject to copyright, on the Web for a fee. The administration of this could be undertaken by the Scottish Society of Playwrights. Such a scheme would make the talent of our playwrights available not only nationally but internationally.
Similarly, art collections, exhibition images and text could be issued on CD or on the internet, alongside educational programmes which link in with catalogue material. This could be orchestrated in order to encourage young people to visit the exhibitions themselves, and allow access by remote communities. It would be possible to collect examples of Art sites which are considered to be worthwhile - a sort of "WebArt Prize" site. That would have the dual advantage of attracting viewers who would otherwise not be willing to search for the gems that are there, and of encouraging "artists" of all sorts to submit material for inclusion in the Virtual National Gallery of Art. This would be particularly valuable in encouraging 'young' artists. Already, the development of SCRAN – the Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network - as a multimedia base for the study, teaching and appreciation of history and material culture in Scotland is providing an outstanding example of the use of new technologies to make some aspects of Scotland’s culture more widely available.
How can the arts and culture industries be better linked with the commercial creative industries to their mutual benefit?
How can Scotland’s creative output be better presented to the wider world?
An initiative to address this paucity of theatrical exports has been proposed by the Federation of Scottish Theatres, through the establishment of an International Work Fund, "to enable theatre practitioners actively to promote their work for export to international markets". The Federation suggests that this might be achieved by mounting a showcase for international promoters at the Edinburgh International Festival, by providing funds for re-mounting work for which there is an international demand and by facilitating international co-productions. This kind of support would establish Scotland as a culturally vibrant nation on the international stage.
There is currently no comprehensive collection of 20th Century Scottish Art in Scotland and if Scotland does not create one, no other country is likely to. While the diploma collection of the Royal Scottish Academy contains a work by every elected member since its establishment, there is no central and comprehensive collection of contemporary Scottish art. Other countries, such as Italy, Denmark and France have excellent collections on public view of 20th century national artists.
How can Scotland’s culture enrich our education system?
How can a wider audience be gained?
The accessibility of any cultural event is determined, as Pierre Bourdieu put it, by "economic capital" or "what you earn" and on "cultural capital" or "what you know". The "young" audience sought for opera, ballet and classical music may have neither. The solution is achieved not by seeking to change the product but by seeking to improve the "capital", by increased subsidy and by education. This education must begin in the primary schools, and the promotion of a study of the visual and performing arts and of literature in the school curriculum is an essential first step. The study of the creative arts should be strengthened and include a serious commitment to acquiring knowledge and understanding of Scotland’s artistic achievements.
While "competencies" can be improved and accessibility promoted, it must be recognised as Utopian to seek to popularise the avant garde. The Scottish Executive should also not be afraid of charges of "elitism". Many important art forms have always been enjoyed by a minority, but should nevertheless be preserved and properly supported.
What special emphasis should be given to indigenous elements whether Gaelic or Scots?
Further information is available from the Research Officer, Dr Marc Rands