Independence in the Arts – a blueprint for a prosperous future

Independence in the Arts – a blueprint for a thriving future

Scotland’s position as a leading international festival destination, and producer of some of the finest literature, music, performance, and new media practice, requires a world-leading strategy to capitalise on this potential.  We need to create pathways which enable the exchange of ideas, provoke critical thinking and inspire future investment.

I believe that art changes the world, and changes people for the better.  In my vision of a thriving Scotland, publicly supported arts play a critical role.  My blueprint is that we should create the conditions in which our independent and small scale creative sectors can thrive. To create the space and investment for artists to make work that can inspire positive transformation through discourse and negotiation, generating shared purpose through the powerful action of artistic processes.

In Scotland we have a burgeoning sector which was created, on the main, through the vision and the will of the people working in it.  It is an ecology which has been grown from the ground up, and is sustained by exceptionally talented, knowledgable and passionate people. I believe, that the previous leadership in Creative Scotland fundamentally failed to appreciate this, and did not understand that people are our most precious resources. In Scotland, we are a national ecosystem of interconnected self-organising groups of artists, producers and audiences.  In this respect our artists have much of a role to play in facilitating and inspiring the political discourse and direction in a future Scotland.  Artists by their very nature understand and work within complex and interconnected systems in which conflict is often at the fore.

We need to begin to see where we might contribute support which will feed the passions of those who are already leading the growth of our sector.  Artists need three things to make work, space, time, and money.  Space could be easily rented to artists free of charge, in the many empty buildings that councils have at their disposal.  The importance of time can be valued by refocusing the parameters for funding and investment to allow them longer time to make truly good work, and as for money.  Artists survive on very little of that.

Most artists earn less than 5k a year.  Most artists, especially those who are in the performing and collaborative arts are not able to make or practice their work for the sake of 5-10k. Putting support into enabling our independent artists to do what they do best, collaborate, question, debate, make work that provokes and insipres will create a hothouse of invention  what produces great art and with great art a great international reputation follows.

Scotland’s finest international works have by and large evolved from Grassroots practice – International and local practice are not mutually exclusive in my experience.  These artists are diplomats as much as they are promoting the Scottish way of life, engaging with worldwide political contexts. Much of this overseas touring work and overseas collaboration is being done by independent artists on very small budgets.

Supporting local grassroots work feeds artists and communities, if artists are well nourished at home they can evolve a unique and idiosyncratic aesthetic, which will make their work stand out in a global context.

With relatively small amounts of money and next to no administrative overheads, artists can be very simply supported to travel, observe other cultural styles and practices, collaborate with international peers and find a place for their work within an international landscape, which in turn promotes Scotland and encourages others to travel and invest here.

On Arts and Economics:

In contrast to UK minister Maria Miller’s stance that the arts have to pay their way, the Scottish government actually have their finger on the facts and recognise that the case for public investment in the arts have already been won as the arts have proven their economic impact in numerous studies.  Fiona Hyslop, the Culture Secretary goes further to assert that the arts are our ‘soul’ and should be valued in and of themselves, a viewpoint offered during more austere times than those we face by Winston Churchill who famously said ‘What are we fighting for, then?’

As if to make the position of the UK government even more hypocritical, their claims of economic ‘recovery’ in Autumn, were almost entirely down to the art market. Data reported by the NEF shows across the UK, the ‘defecit on trade in goods, excluding oil fell by £329m last month and £310m of that came from a single source: London art auctions, which had a spectacular month for overseas sales.’ (http://www.neweconomics.org/blog/entry/dont-believe-the-economic-hype-this-is-a-bubble-not-a-boom)

It’s sad that only a few years ago, due to a withdrawal of core funding, that of the two Scotland based gallerists who represented artists on the international market, both Sorcha Dallas gallery and Doggerfisher had to close.  We’re not talking about huge sums of money here.  This is only about the the tens of thousands, not the hundreds.

The independent market IS our strength and our unique selling point in a global context.  We need to implement a shift in our measure of success – success in not just about being big, it’s about being small, being connected, being fleet of foot and being the best in the world at the very particular thing that you do.

Real incomes are falling for many and this is ever more the case for artists – all cuts to arts budgets protect the infrastructure of the organisations, passing the cuts on to artists as fewer jobs, lower wages and fewer commissions.

Valuing our artists, we can release the great capacity they have to challenge, inspire, celebrate and shape the identity of our future Scotland.

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