For art’ sake
Crisis in the arts! What crisis in the arts? Philip Parr talks to Eric Robinson, the man behind the Scottish Arts Lobby‘s autumnal celebration of Scotland’s creativity and finds him in optimistic mood.
‘What we‘re really saying is that over the last ten years. whatever the problems. there‘s a great block of magnificent achievement in the arts in Scotland. Let‘s for a moment — instead ofbeing anxious. grumbling and worrying about what is or what should be -— point out the achievement. because often we lose sight ofthat.‘
Eric Robinson. the director ofthe Scottish arts lobby. SALVO. is not a man to dwell on past glories without a reason. And so it is in this case. His organisation is providing the initiative for a fortnight of celebration of the arts in Scotland which. Robinson hopes. will spread the message ofthe value of the arts from Stranraer to ShetlanJ.
‘Let‘s generate a higher public awareness.‘ he says. ‘of how good the arts are for Scotland; economically. socially. and culturally. Let‘s do it with leaﬂets. let‘s do it with discussions. or let‘s tell it some other way. Clydesdale district have an arts festival which ; coincides with the fortnight and they‘re running a seminar on arts in the community. I‘m delighted that up there they‘re as interested in being involved as The Queen‘s Hall in Edinburgh is.‘
When the idea of an arts fortnight was suggested. in the summer. it was planned that exhibitions and special performances would accompany the leafleting. The old problem of lack of funds. especially in the rural areas. ensured that such wide-scale activity remained impossible to organise. Although the main raison-d‘étre of SALVO is to tackle the funding issue. Eric Robinson does not believe that the situation is too desperate.
‘I would say that there‘s been evidence of growth over the last ten years.‘ he declares. ‘In our national companies — the opera. the ballet. the touring theatre companies. through to artists like Runrig — we‘ve got a wealth of talent to be proud of. Also. there‘s definitely a difference in what has been happening north and south ofthe border. I was in a conference in Aberdeen and there were people there from England.
()ne lady councillor said to me. “I just find it extraordinary how high morale seems to be in Scotland in the cultural sector. Everything‘s so depressed and there‘s talk oftheatre crisis in England and that doesn‘t seem to be the case here.“ ‘
‘I think she‘s right and for a number ofreasons. One is a topical one. that the City of (‘ulture has had a spin-offthroughout Scotland and there is no doubt in my mind that what it has done is create a number ofcopy exercises with a message that the arts is good for Scotland. Secondly. you‘ve got to remember that the general complexion oflocal authorities in Scotland is Labour. While one looks at central funding for the arts. one must remember that the funding from local authorities is just as important and over the last ten years that has grown. 'l‘here has been a considerable commitment with money. manpower. setting up arts offices. forums and councils. There are black spots but if you look at the budgeting for the arts now and ten years ago. I think you‘ll find that it is far more generous.‘
One ofthe generous councillors is Edinburgh‘s Paolo Vestri. the
convener ot”l‘he (‘onvention of Scottish Local Authorities. (‘OSLA emphatically supports the arts fortnight and Vestri says that there will be no return to the campaign slogans ofa few years ago when ‘C‘ouncil Houses not ()pera llouses‘ was proclaimed by every Edinburgh (‘ouncil Labour candidate.
‘You can‘t really measure the importance ofthe arts in financial terms.‘ says Vestri. ‘or even by the number ofpeople who attend. If you‘ve got a vibrant culture then that adds to the quality oflife in a city. One of the reasons that Glasgow has spent so much is because of that issue. Glasgow had a notorious reputation but they‘ve put all that behind them and said. “We‘re the (‘ity ofCulture. we‘re a good place to live in and a good place to set up a business.“ And that. to a certain extent. has worked. Even though Joe Bloggs living in Easterhouse doesn‘t benefit directly because he doesn‘t go to the opera or doesn‘t go to the galleries. by increasing the economic activity ofthe city. he‘s benefiting from the spin-off.‘
So. SALVO is grateful to the local authorities and even. to some extent.
the national government and the politicians are glad to be ol‘service. If it all sounds a little cosy. then lirie Robinson is quick to point out that the politicians. ofwhatever persuasion. can not be entirely trusted to pour money into the arts.
"l‘he November fortnight is part of a two-stage strategy. In March. we intend to hold an arts manifesto conference and we‘ll draw together most of our membership for a detailed debate about what the future policies for arts should be.‘
‘What we're saying is. “Raise the positive profile ofthe arts this autumn and then next spring. let‘s look at the problems. identify the needs and publish a manifesto." I‘m sure that with this sort of platform of confidence building. no politician will be able to neglect the arts. In the past they‘ve been able to say. “That‘s marginal. that's nothing to do with us." No politician is going to be able to do that next year.‘ ( Philip Parr)
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