The Elephant in the Room


Posted by in March's Magazine

Recession happens when people don’t spend, thus it can be cured by people choosing to throw caution to the increasingly destructive winds and start purchasing goods and services again. It’s a psychological issue. A matter of confidence.

And what better way to achieve this economic stabilization than to buy entertainment…culture…thought? The entertainment unions have long pointed to research indicating the economic benefits of entertainment. Live performance gets audiences out of the house. They pay for transport, drinks and meals out and, in many cases, they incorporate the show into a mini-break, giving business to B&B’s and local shops. All-in-all, aside from the significant 5% of Scottish workers employed in the snazzily titled Creative Industries, the act of putting real people in front of live entertainers invigorates a whole chain of supply and demand that puts money in pockets. A life spent moping at home worrying is never fun. Whereas an evening getting down at a break-dance convention, stroking your chin at an art gallery or laughing uproariously at a brand-spanking new piece of touring Scottish theatre for a tenner you might otherwise have meekly given to the directors of Ladbrokes PLC is fun. In fact, the very definition of ‘fun’ in Funny McFunster’s Funsome Dictionary of Funtastic Funs-to-do.

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What has the government done? So far, before the poop-flingers draw back their arms, the Scottish government have conceded the point. Their Government Programme agrees with the sensible cognoscenti. Unlike the Cultural Revolution of David Ca-Mao-ron’s purges in England’s green and desert land, funding in the cultural sector hasn’t completely collapsed North of the Border: One proof of benefit to the devolved area of Culture, (despite the geniuses at EH99 having twinned the Culture with External Affairs).

Fiona Hyslop
It’s not a complete bed of roses; the pungent pong passed-on by the cut to the Scottish settlement from the UK government is that cuts, though less severe than Doon Sooth, are still happening. And it remains to be seen what future SNP budgets will be en route to referendum. However their autumn document, ‘Renewing Scotland’, augured well for their intentions – though we all know what road intentions pave…

Let us hope that they follow through on these grand pronouncements. Scottish Culture Minister, Fiona Hyslop, points out that, ‘The Arts Council in England had its budget cut by 30% whereas Creative Scotland’s budget is to be cut by 7.5% over the next three years despite the cuts to Scotland…the SNP is committed to putting culture at the heart of our plans to develop Scotland’s overall prosperity…the creative industries are worth more than £5billion per year to Scotland’s economy, it is a golden thread running through so much of what is good in our society’. New Cultural Funding has been earmarked surrounding the Commonwealth Games, promoting Scotland’s Festivals, cities and creative industries.

Arm’s length sponsorship of the performing arts is a necessity if artists want to be able to take risks with their projects. Remove the funding and the first priority of every show will be to make money; not in itself a bad thing, but for it to be the number-one concern stifles creativity. And it has to be national investment: private investors expect financial returns; which is exactly the problem with speculative share-ownership – rather than the train/energy/whisky companies having to be in the black at the end of a balance sheet, they have to make more and more profits every quarter to satisfy their investors dividends. Product and service standards plummet as costs are cut as the only means to generate increased financial return.

Envy of world
One huge elephant in the room is Creative Scotland. We still, two years since it replaced the structures of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, have no real idea of its workings and nor, judging by their superficial pamphlets and website, do they. ‘Portfolio managers’ are being installed and we eagerly await the grand entrances from yonder Grendel’s cave. In the meantime many fine theatre companies, amongst them Ayrshire’s innovative Borderline Theatre and Pitlochry’s Festival Theatre have had previous funding whisked seemingly groundlessly away from them.

The previously funded Wee Stories, that makes exceptional, world-class, theatre for young people, had to scrabble for votes in a populist funding competition run by ‘RBS Community Force’. Ironic, really, seeing as how the vast, world-straddling behemoth that is RBS was one of the key architects in the axis of corporate greed that allowed the pigs in Westminster to cut funding to anyone earning less than a million pounds an hour from their penthouse ivory Jacuzzis bubbling with Third World blood.

But Scotland has a chance to right wrongs. Arts funding is currently far less than 1% of national spend yet accounts for 7% of income generation. Imagine if politicians increased that spend to just 1%. Imagine if we made a proportionate amount of TV drama. Imagine what we could be doing in 12 month’s time if we push for it. We would be the envy of the world.

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