NATIONAL CULTURAL STRATEGY
IT'S CALLED SCOTLAND'S NATIONAL Cultural Strategy, but there's very little of the strategic about it. There's a lot of platitude and an awful lot of the bleeding obvious. Published on 16 August by the Scottish Executive, it is a first attempt by the new Scottish Parliament to get to grips with the culture thing. It is wide ranging to the point of meaninglessness (everything gets a look in from sport to education, from manufacturing to the internet) yet it pays virtually no attention to art or artists. But for all the windy admin-speak, all the smoke-screen of buzz words, it is not to be treated lightly. After all, Scotland's National Cultural Strategy is not just a document; it is a four-year plan with a £7.25m budget.
Admittedly, it’s a budget that won't find its way directly into artists’ pockets or that will make an immediate difference to audiences. The cash will go on things like ‘restructuring’ Scotland's museums and galleries (£3m), ’promoting excellence' in traditional arts (£1.5m) and appointing co-ordinators to ’champion culture’ in schools (£850,000). Pity the poor musician, painter or performer who sees such sums disappear into the bureaucratic void. Let's hope they hang round long enough for all those schools co-ordinators to have some culture left to champion.
But what is significant is that a strategy has been created at all. Its vision may be fuzzy, a confused, sometimes contradictory hotchpotch of political and economic justifications for nebulous and untameable creative forces, but at least it is an earnest attempt to take the whole business seriously. Too often funding battles are characterised as conflicts between the right-thinking aesthete and the philistine government. Now we have an administration that is committed to 'increase recognition of the potential contribution of the cultural and aesthetic across all areas of Scottish Executive policy’. In other words, Scotland has a formal policy, endorsed by first minister Donald Dewar, no longer to treat the cultural sector as the poor relation.
So what will it mean? Well, beyond all the twaddle about 'participation’, ’inclusion’, 'structures’, ’monitoring', ’management’, ‘provision’ (this really is a bureaucrat’s view of culture), and beyond
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the woolly promises to ’recognise’, ’celebrate', ’promote’ and 'enhance' existing activity, there are at least two specific commitments which, if fulfilled, will make a significant difference to artists and audiences in Scotland. As long as the Executive is not over-zealous in its plans to ’audit the availability for training‘ and to ’develop, disseminate and apply relevant research into aspects of cultural provision' (ie more lucrative contracts for the consultants), and as long as it heeds its own advice to 'minimise the bureaucracy associated with public funding’ (oh, the irony), then considerable good could come out of the exercise.
Its first concrete pledge is in support of Scottish Screen’s development of a Film Charter for Scotland and for ’the exploration of the feasibility of establishing a film studio’. Now ’exploration of the feasibility' might not sound like the biggest thumbs up, but for a government body, it’s not far off signing your name in blood. It's not an actual commitment but it’s a sure sign of political will. And political will is what's needed to bring into being the proposed £9m film production centre in Glasgow’s Pacific Quay and with it the possibility of a firmly rooted Scottish film industry. Watch that space.
More positive still is its commitment to ’take steps to develop a national
Scotland has a formal policy, endorsed by Donald Dewar, nolongerto treat the cultural sector as the poor relation.
We don’t love Ratcatcher because it gives value for money, so why build a cultural policy on those principles?
At around 60 pages, the Scottish Executive's NATIONAL CULTURAL STRATEGY makes bewildering reading. But behind the hot air and the empty promises, the £7.25m blueprint will affect every reader of The List.
Words: Mark Fisher
theatre for Scotland’. Now, a national theatre is not necessarily a good idea in itself but, in the plan laid out by the Federation Of Scottish Theatres, it’s an inspired opportunity to up the quality, quantity and status of theatre across the country without falling into the trap of creating a building-based monolith. It’ll be up to the FST to ensure that the purity of its vision — a scheme closer in concept to the structure of the Edinburgh International Festival than to that of the National Theatre in London — is not corrupted as it progresses through the political process.
It’s disappointing that with a £7.25m budget, the Executive could do no better than suggest means-tested music tuition for children. Any nation that takes its culture seriously should regard music education as a right, just as much as maths or history, and not as an optional extra. Neither is there much solace for people, such as those at Chemikal Underground, who believe there’s a case for public funding of popular music; the document provides only a half-hearted promise to ’recognise the power of popular music-making to engage young people in cultural activities’, which rather implies that the act of engagement is more important than the music itself.
But this sort of exercise will always be fraught with contradictions. There's a sentence towards the end of the Strategy that reveals why. 'Public money,’ it says, ’needs to be spent in ways which are demonstrably beneficial to the public.’ It's the kind of common-sense statement that defies argument but, Thatcherite in implication, it is fundamentally antithetical to the idea of art. Our love of Ratcatcher, of Further Than The Furthest Thing, of 100 Broken Windows, of The Sopranos, of The Private K/ee has nothing to do with their demonstrable benefits to the public. Even if you could identify such benefits, how could you quantify them to see if public money had been well spent?
No, for a strategy of this nature to be truly creative it would have to be artist- centred and the best we can hope of Scotland's National Cultural Strategy, rooted as it is in the world of business plans and ’good practice’, is that it will create a landscape in which our artists can get on and do their stuff unhampered. That’s if it doesn't just provide another raft of self-justifying paperwork.
The National Cultural Strategy is available on line at www.5cotland.gov.uk/nationalculturalstrategy See John Fardell, page 104