A case for the arts

Item Posted: Tuesday 5th January, 2010

Argyll Votes for Music and Culture

When ForArgyll.com announced the winners of the Argyll Awards, decided by public vote in twelve different categories, they can never have expected to be overwhelmed by the grass roots support for the Arts, and especially for traditional <a style="display:none;" music and Gaelic culture. Neither might they have expected that that it would be the seemingly small and community led ventures that appear to be most appreciated by the thousands of Argyll residents and visitors who voted.

There was only one category (Best Arts Programme) that was specific to the Arts. Some categories relating to wildlife, the environment and some web related categories effectively ruled out music and the arts (even to the most enthusiastic and catholic arts voters!). The organisers found that all the finalists in the overall ‘Best Achievement for Argyll’ category represented traditional music and/or Gaelic culture, and that eleven out of fourteen possible winner and runner up positions were taken by the Arts!

Whilst not in any way decrying the efforts and impact of non –arts groups and individuals on community life and tourism, this overwhelming support by residents and Argyll visitors has led me to wonder, yet again, about the discrepancy between what people want and what councils, with a few notable exceptions, and government, seem inclined to support.

I may be talking to the converted, but most of the research I have seen, together with anecdotal evidence, gives traditional music a far higher profile than funders warrant it.
Figures given by the Scottish Executive itself indicates that 7% of tourists come to Scotland for traditional music; research carried out during the Highland Year of Culture showed that traditional music came second out of eighteen possible reasons to visit the Highlands. The perception of residents was not much different –they placed it at third out of eighteen. Yet most of the categories below traditional music in priority for the public get substantially more funding. Even in the narrow, and cash strapped, Arts budget, traditional arts do poorly. Of the Scottish Arts Council budget, despite the unique ‘selling proposition’ and potential for traditional arts only 1% finds itself invested in traditional arts.

Whatever people’s feelings are for and against Homecoming 2009, few would doubt –especially if the local initiatives listed on the Homecoming web site are looked at in detail - the successes it had as a project to attract more tourists from the diaspora were at least partly down to our traditional music and special culture. Yet when the ‘mainstream’ press reviewed the year traditional music was ignored. A two page spread in the Herald ‘How was it for you’ interviewed eleven ’representatives’, including historians, golf, whisky and so on – but no one from the world of music.

There is at least part of the problem. The Scottish press, with notable exceptions of a couple of good reviewers and wide coverage of Celtic Connections, do little for the profile of Scottish music. Last year I met a reviewer from a major paper at a tradition music festival to be told that she normally covered ballet, and this was the first traditional event she had attended. When the press did their usual look back at the decade and look forward to the next Celtic arts were totally ignored other than a brief mention of Celtic Connections.

The angst from the arts world over Fiona Hyslop’s apparent ‘demotion’ to Culture Minister in November, and Labour leader Iain Gray’s remarks about it being a ‘non-job’, hit the headlines briefly but is unlikely to have a lasting or positive result for the Arts. A couple of weeks later another fright was given to the arts sector. Glasgow Council went public with news of its planned cuts, and the following headlines focussed on ‘Teachers warn of treat to music tuition as councils cut spending,’ as music tuition seems to be seen as an ‘easy target.’

There is mounting evidence that music tuition is a vital part of school life and an integral part of children’s social development. Music tuition is about producing musicians, but it is also about much more: ‘Music is the only subject where all the fundamental principles of an organised, decent society are intrinsic to the subject- listening, thinking, expressing yourself coherently, nurturing self-confidence, working for the general good, caring for the needs of others, being individualistic while acutely conscious of those around you.’ If this seems too hi-fallutin’ I’d just make a pragmatic point –if music tuition and playing is not encouraged, and supported, in schools and the community the future of the tertiary music education at RSAMD and others is threatened. If community ventures and venues get no investment there will be few places for budding musicians to play. There will be no ‘new blood’ for the much lauded and supported festivals. In time we may lose much of the traditional musical and Gaelic culture that has seen such a renaissance of late. By 2019 ForArgyll.com’s awards will have lost many of its potential community nominations, and, in my opinion at least, be the poorer for it!

I’ll leave the last word to one of our concert goers: ‘Scotland has a unique culture …The mountains, glens and lochs are the body of Scotland. Music and Arts are its soul.’

Music and Arts winners and runners up in the Argyll awards included: Eilidh Steel, the Helensburgh fiddler and composer; Gaelic singer and journalist Joy Dunlop; Lochgoilhead Fiddle Workshop; Islay Festival and Homecoming Parade; Fèis Cheann Loch Goibhle’s St Columba Ceilidh Trail; Royal National Mod, Oban; Fiddle Folk’s Hands Across the Seas Concert Series; Meur Chruachain’s Ceilidhs. For a profile of all the arts winners and runners up, please visit www.fiddleworkshop.co.uk
For details of all the categories awards and finalists visit www.forargyll.com


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