Andy Robertson argues for the cultural sector to become an equal stakeholder in developing a future for Scotland.
Pierre Châtel-Innocenti on Unsplash
Culture Counts is the collective voice of Scotland’s culture sector, working towards outcome-based policy making in the context of National Performance Framework, which aims to give equal importance to economic, environmental and social progress. In autumn 2020, we crowdsourced a manifesto for the forthcoming Scottish Parliament Elections in May 2021. The process, open to anyone working or volunteering in culture, produced a large bank of issues and ideas and we now have eight clear asks from the sector that all political parties can work towards.
Legislation for culture
One topic kept coming up in Culture Counts sessions: local culture infrastructure connects many of the challenges faced by the culture and creative industries in Scotland. Our consultees painted a picture of limited local authority provision for culture, resulting in unsustainable projects. Put simply, we need local culture plans.
Culture can help Scotland’s local economies and community wellbeing to flourish. 84% of Scottish people say their local area would lose something of value if arts and cultural activities disappeared. Our manifesto calls for a 'Culture Act’ or ‘Future Generations Act’ that will integrate culture into communities.
Akin to the Arts Act in Ireland, future legislation would require all local authority areas to have a cultural plan. Plans would be collaboratively designed by a wide range of local businesses, colleges, universities, prisons, health and social care organisations, as well as local freelance cultural specialists, artists, cultural organisations, social enterprises and third sector representatives.
These culture plans would support fair work for culture sector freelancers. The current precarity of freelance work is partly due to a lack of long-term sustainable planning for local cultural offers; planning leads to commitments, which in turn lead to secure work. Mandatory culture planning would also ensure people can take part in the cultural life of their community while increasing opportunities to express our diverse cultures.
For example, we are well armed with evidence of the health benefits of creativity, but we must maintain local connections between health and culture to make this real. Culture is too often forgotten in the development of policy and planning tools. It is our goal to see the culture sector included in growth deals and agreements as statutory consultees.
Pride and influence
We took ideas from our manifesto to the wider public. Working with Survation, we’ve been able to capture what people think of culture in their community. Our survey, which sampled more than 1,000 residents, shows the involvement (or lack thereof) that Scots have in local cultural activity.
About half (51%) agreed with the statement ‘I'm proud of the art and culture produced in my local area’, but just 23% told us they feel able to contribute to or influence creative and cultural activity in their local area. In some regions, like the West of Scotland, only 19% felt they could influence culture locally.
We asked respondents to what extent they agreed with the statement ‘my local area provides opportunities to take part in creative pursuits’. You can explore the differences in regions using the interactive chart below.
We also noticed how pride in local arts and culture decreases with age.
Just 51% of Scots said they view the arts, creative and culture opportunities on offer in Scotland to be diverse enough.
Our creative and cultural sector in Scotland is not one where the cream rises to the top. Career progression in the arts is far from a level playing field and opportunities are too often limited to people with enough social or economic capital to risk freelancing. Our lack of diversity creates quiet problems. If all Scotland’s artists are from similar socio-economic backgrounds, we lose our ability as a sector to understand the breadth of society’s challenges. Our narrow parameters for who can become an artist limits our relevance.
One of our manifesto collaborators asks: "How do we hold ourselves accountable, do the work, create bridges, and design sustainable pathways for people from marginalised groups?”
A plan for everyone
No, my sister didn’t make it into an orchestra but she sure enjoyed making a racket with the violin. And you’ll never convince me it wasn’t influential in her development into a wonderfully talented mental health nurse. My other sister is a better biology teacher because she learned ballet. We need a plan for everyone who benefits from creative expression.
To the next Scottish Government, we will support you. We’ll support you in the development of our Future Generations Act or a Culture Act. We’ll support you with our ideas and our creativity. Together we will design a future that protects Scotland’s children, generation after generation.