I value the arts, says Anne Bonnar, but why is the scope and reach of the NCA’s recent campaign limited north of the border?
At the moment when something is described as ‘national’ to an arts professional in Scotland, you may observe a momentary hesitation while the individual computes what ‘national’ means. There has been enormous political and cultural change in Scotland in the 25 years since the National Campaign for the Arts (NCA) was established. Then, ‘national’ for most of us meant UK national, and most arts professionals would identify as being British. Now, ten years after devolution, which gives Scotland power to determine policy and resource arts and culture as well as education, health and justice, this has all changed. Scotland’s arts, culture and creativity drive its success as a small nation – to most of us involved in the arts here, ‘national’ now refers to Scotland.
So we can be excused a degree of ambivalence and confusion over the NCA’s ‘I Value the Arts’ campaign, backed by a range of UK industry bodies, of which several have neither members nor influence in Scotland. Culture is a devolved matter and, increasingly, some UK associations are perceived as having little or no relevance to Scotland: Scotland’s own few associations, such as the Federation of Scottish Theatre, had not signed up to the campaign at the time of writing.
We in Scotland are in danger of being too insular and even burying our heads in the sand. The arts in Scotland have had a stay of execution for a year or so, but the cuts will come and the time for hesitation has passed. The UK campaign is a common cause and the evidence collected and arguments made by UK cultural leaders apply directly to Scotland; a debate in the House of Commons about the arts would include Scottish MPs.
Scotland does not have its own alternative infrastructure for collective leadership, advocacy and representation. We are notorious for our high dependence on the public sector and subsidised arts organisations tend to keep their heads below the parapet. Creative Scotland sets out to be an advocate but as it is wholly owned by the Scottish Government, albeit with arm’s length status, it certainly can’t take a publicly political role lobbying for arts funding.
Art knows no boundaries. David Shrigley, graduate of Glasgow School of Art, citizen of Scotland, the UK, and the world, illustrates the value of the arts in his video. And yes, the rest of us have a part to play – to lend our voices to what should be a truly UK campaign.