The Royal Society of Edinburgh is pleased to respond to the Scottish Arts Council’s consultation onScottish Arts in the 21st Century. 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 fromindustry, commerce and the professions. This response has been compiled with the assistance of a number of Fellows from a variety of disciplines with direct experience of the arts in Scotland.
It is an appropriate time for the Scottish Arts Council (SAC) to be taking stock, and the SAC paperraises a number of major issues on a wide range of topics.
At the outset, however, it is important to stress the present strengths of the arts in Scotland, the body of talent that exists in all the artforms, the diversity of provision, the opportunity to see international companies and performers and the growing body of first class scholarship and academic research related to Scottish culture, literature and the performing arts. Scotland begins the new millennium and looks forward to the re-instatement of its own Parliament with confidence in the vibrancy of its cultural life.
Such confidence, however, must not induce complacency. The arts are still underfunded, partly because the demands for support now seriously exceed the funding available. This is in itself a healthy state of affairs - the converse would be much more pessimistic - but the gradual erosion of state funding and the effects of the re-organisation of Local Government have made the last decade a particularly anxious time for all concerned. Innovation and redistribution of funds have occurred and that is much to be commended, but the fragility of the 'core' infrastructure at present is the principal weakness in the fabric of artistic and cultural provision in Scotland.
Further comments on the consultation paper are addressed below:
- Are the traditional arts failing to secure the young audience of the future?
- We need to ask why some artforms like opera, ballet and classical music are still enjoyed by a tiny minority.
- Where there are barriers created by the artform itself, we need to break them down and aim for the widest possible access.
- The challenge is to devise 'a double-strategy' that is responsive to initiatives and innovation while preserving the highest artistic standards in the established artforms. Such a balance, however, cannot be achieved by a dirigiste cultural strategy. A potential occupational hazard of arts or cultural policy makers is that they tend to down grade the continuous contribution of the artists who are the principal promoters of innovation. Much of this innovative work in recent times has broken down traditional barriers between artforms and has actively promoted the incorporation of 'popular' cultural references within 'established' forms, e.g. multi-media productions, site-specific performances, dramatisation of 'youth cult' novels.
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. There are already pockets of good practice but these are dependent often on the initiatives of individual teachers rather than on SOIED policy. 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 SAC 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.
- As a small country are we destined to provide the nursery slopes for artists and writers who, having had their first book published by a Scottish publisher or their first exhibition mounted by a Scottish gallery, then find fame and fortune with London-based publishers and galleries?
- The reference to the 'export' of artists 'to find fame and fortune with London-based publishers or galleries' implies some kind of betrayal on their part of their Scottish roots and accords scant gratitude to the funding body for assisting them on 'the nursery slopes'. Art and the artist must have a world passport: ideally, as many will leave Scotland as will arrive from other countries to scale the Scottish peaks. This is especially so as Scotland is a mature nation ready to play a part in European and world cultural affairs.
A strength of the arts in Scotland is the accessibility of companies of international standing. Prime examples of this are the Edinburgh International Festival and, on a smaller scale, the repertoire of the Tramway in Glasgow. Sadly, our 'balance of payments' on the import/export front is seriously askew. We import far more than we export and that is an unhealthy situation. As the Canadian director, Robert Lepage, put it, 'A culture that does not export is a culture that is doomed to disappear'. There have been some notable exceptions, but in 1996, the number of theatre performances by Scottish companies given outside the British Isles amounted to only thirty-one. There is a highly exportable product in most artforms but neither the money nor the will to take it abroad. Perhaps the SAC should reconsider its policy of funding overseas work to come in, but not Scottish art to go out.
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.
In encouraging successful artists to display in Scotland, we would support the funding of major venues for exhibiting temporary world-class exhibitions throughout Scotland, such as the Maclellan Galleries in Glasgow, and the RSA and City Arts Centre in Edinburgh.
- Does the subsidy system diminish the entrepreneurial spirit of artists and arts organisations? Are there ways of supporting the arts in which this could be avoided or in which entrepreneurial spirit could be stimulated?
- In terms of the proposition that the system of state subsidy might inhibit entrepreneurship in artists, the great artist may 'do it anyway' but a vibrant artistic community is not composed entirely of self-sacrificing geniuses. A critical mass of competent artists produces the great ones who, in any event, are rare. The whole creative community needs support by a mature society. There is no more reason for an artist to be an entrepreneur than there is for an entrepreneur to be an artist. The real entrepreneurs in the arts today are the 'consultants' without whose imprimatur apparently no application is deemed acceptable to funding bodies. Resources that could better be spent on artistic work are often spent on 'experts' who frequently do little more than reprocess in a glossy binder the statements of the artistic team of the organisation which they are advising.
- Are there other questions, other challenges which – while they may not in themselves be new – require new thinking and new responses.
- The consultation document notes the arts usefulness as economic and social tools. Care must be taken lest artists are forced only to meet the criteria of Government policy. In terms of 'the economic impact of the arts' and the role of the arts in 'urban renewal', the success of Mahabharata, Pavarotti, et al. in Glasgow, was no doubt good for trade, but does not make Mahabharata a better or a worse piece of theatre. The arts may aid the economy, but that is not their primary purpose. Similarly, there should be caution in seeing the arts not so much as income generators but as tools to rectify anomalies of social exclusion, e.g. creative activities that either directly involve, or meet the needs of, the socially deprived. This may seem to be a more attractive philosophy, but ultimately the therapeutic value of art is incidental, not essential. The two philosophies derive from the same false premise, that art needs to be justified in terms other than its own.
It is also important to stress that, paradoxically, in the present financial climate, diversity is going to be maintained only through increased collaboration at many levels and in a variety of ways e.g. co-productions with national and international companies, and between the subsidised and the commercial sectors. It is understood that the Scottish Arts Council and theFederation of Scottish Theatres support such collaborations which can be promoted without the loss of individual company identity. It is recognised, however, that in times of reduced funding, there is bound to be competition which militates against such co-operation.
One positive example of such co-operation is a project to raise the cultural profile of the visual arts in Scotland being undertaken by the University of Edinburgh, in collaboration with the Edinburgh College of Art, the National Galleries and the National Museums of Scotland, and in affiliation with the University of St. Andrews. It is planned to establish a Research Centre which will explore and redefine the nature of visual culture, looking both backwards into history and forwards into contemporary practice, with an orchestrated programme of research seminars and conferences, and the publication of a quarterly journal. On another level the Research Centre will be an environment in which British and international scholars from the university and museum worlds can collaborate on exhibitions, to the benefit of the exhibition-going public. It could be advantageous if the Scottish Arts Council and the Research Centre were able to work together on this project. Such has been the strength of painting throughout the last 75 years, that it would be a fitting recognition of this and a stimulus for future work if there were a major exhibition on contemporary Scottish painting held early in the coming century.
For smaller emergent companies, weak in administration, support and assistance could valuably be provided through a permanent SAC umbrella administration service, staffed by qualified professionals, for whose services companies paid a fee as required (which would be heavily subsidised). Similarly, support could be provided to promote awareness of European Union funding opportunities, and assistance given in submitting claims.
- We need to know why a healthy majority of the Scottish population says it enjoys attending arts events, but a tiny minority actually participate.
- It should be recognised that concert attendance and the support of the arts in general is a worldwide concern and not just a Scottish one. In the traditional arts, participation is often as important as attending performances. Money could, therefore, be valuably spent on subsidising courses that teach instrumental music, dancing and folk song.
- We need to ask ourselves whether we encourage the arts sufficiently at amateur level, or give enough motivation to our children and young people to take part.
- The whole concept of an 'amateur' in the arts is problematic. A poet or visual artist may earn his/her living by a means other than the sale of the poem or the painting but may still be regarded as a 'professional'. Funding support for such arts is highly desirable.
In the cities the numbers of amateur theatrical, operatic, musical, drawing, and pottery groups (to name but some) appear to be high. The question of the funding of such groups is a more vexed one. In the theatre, the SAC has in the past had a policy of funding professionals to work with amateurs. Funding joint professional/amateur productions might expand this initiative. Direct funding for wholly amateur groups at a time when money is tight, is problematic; although it has be noted that many innovations that successfully challenged the stale practices of the dominant art forms emerged from amateur groups. Perhaps there could be 'an amateur allocation' for which non-professional organisations could bid, the principal criterion being innovative endeavour either for provision of priming funds or for further subsidy, perhaps on a matching funding basis. The availability of a number of modest grants, say of £500, £1k, £2k or £5k, might help organisations tailor their applications to fit the size of grant available, as has been done by the Lottery.
- We need to find ways to ensure that where you live or what you earn is no barrier to that participation or enjoyment.
- Outreach and education seem to be reasonably developed in some areas of the performing arts; Scottish Opera and Opera Go-Round are good examples. Nevertheless, more can still be done and taking theatrical events outside the main venues should be extended. In this respect, subsidising venues will be a key part of the process. Extending modest funding to support exhibitions in rural areas could also have a valuable role in widening popular appreciation of new visual art. Although outreach is often combined with educational activities such as workshops, this is not invariably the case. It could be argued that preference in funding for outreach activities in the performing arts should be given to those applications with a strong educational element, perhaps in collaboration with schools or local communities.
That’s why the fact of the Millennium should mean taking another keen look at our cultural priorities. Asking ourselves if, on the edge of the 21st century, some of us are still presenting the arts in ways more appropriate to 19th century audiences.
The rapid spread of information technology can be significant both in promoting the artistic product and in assisting the artist. There is a need for venues to be equipped with the necessary equipment. For example, as we now have acoustiguides for adults, and various kinds of sheets for children to fill out in galleries, we now envisage the development of software to include knowledge and appreciation of paintings in general and of specific images in particular.
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. The Scottish Arts Council might establish a 'Scottish Plays' Website and every new Scottish Play 'registered' i.e. 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 internationally.
Similarly, art collections, exhibition images and text could be issued on CD or on the internet, alongside educational games which link in with catalogue material. This could be orchestrated in order to encourage young people to visit the exhibitions themselves, and reach 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.
- Is too much money going into keeping organisations going, and not enough to the creative artists themselves?
Forms of support range from direct patronage (by commission) to indirect subsidy (through provision of venues and low cost participation by the public). Although Scotland is currently rich in artists in the field of visual arts, relatively few make a handsome living and many exist on a modest income coupled with that from teaching or some other employment. Where help could be more generously provided is in supporting smaller out of town galleries which struggle to present artistic showings on a shoestring.
Assistance for the transition from student to independent professional could also be provided. This could be achieved either through a structured mentor system linking them with established professionals, or through interim group studios/workshops resourced at the highest professional level, for say, three years, established or sponsored through SAC.
- How should the arts be administered and resourced? Should there be a Ministry of Culture and what should be its remit? Should the SAC have a new relationship with the incoming government? Should it change the way it works?
Along with the education and legal systems and the main Christian denominations, the arts have done much to define Scottish cultural consciousness. The creation of a Scottish Parliament will raise new questions about state support for the arts in Scotland.
These issues are more fully addressed in Creative Scotland. The Case for a National Cultural Strategy published in September 1998 by the National Cultural Agencies. It is not within the remit to comment on this document, although of the three options proposed for a parliamentary structure to ensure the continuing and improving health of the arts in Scotland, a Ministry of Cultural Affairs is the most viable. For cultural affairs to be part of a department of the executive, such as education or heritage, renders it too marginal, and the other 'holistic' alternative 'Government by Objective' seems vague. A difficulty in setting up a Ministry for Culture, however, is that it requires funding for a bureaucracy which would at least partially duplicate that of the SAC. An alternative could be a Parliamentary Standing Committee on culture, rather than a Ministry.
Given that there should be state sponsorship of the arts, the issues are ones of scale and form. In resourcing the arts, it should be recognised that the numbers actively contributing to the visual arts and crafts, music and drama, literature, film and television are proportionally large for a small country. An apt model for discussion is the situation in the Republic of Ireland where a ministry of culture is doing much to extend the range of artistic activity, to enhance its international profile and to increase its contribution to the national economy.
SAC will have to be careful, with the arrival of a new Parliament, that it is not sidelined into becoming a Council for Scottish Arts rather than a Scottish Arts Council. There is the danger that it may be persuaded to concentrate its activities on areas of culture which seem to be specifically Scottish, and which might be used as instruments for promoting a Scottish cultural identity deliberately separate from the rest of the world. Culture is international and if government tries to limit it to local national significance we shall all be impoverished.
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 mold, but take into account shifts in centres of creative excellence over time.
A cultural policy must therefore be sensitive and reactive to those shifts and never seek to be prescriptive and dogmatic.
The Scottish Arts Council should be commended on its paper which undoubtedly raises issues which require to be addressed by the Scottish community.
Change of any kind breeds opportunity and the RSE is grateful for the chance to comment. On a final point, the paper in many respects concentrates overly on the 'receivers' of culture and not enough on the 'creators' of culture. To quote the playwright, Joan Ure from Scarlet Mood -'A country gets the artists it deserves'.
Further information is available from the Research Officer, Dr Marc Rands