Trad Music under threat

Item Posted: Monday 1st September, 2008

TRAD MUSIC IN CRISIS?

The closure of the Yorkshire Dales Workshop reported in the last issue of Fiddle On is sad, and may well be only the tip of the iceberg as voluntary groups everywhere report substantial cuts in arts funding.

The Scottish music scene, the one I am involved with, has seen huge problems with the Scottish Arts Council Foundation funding being withdrawn from numerous groups, including the Traditional Music and Song Association, the Scots Music Group (Adult Learning Project) winner of Community Project of the Year title in the Scots Trad Music Awards 2007, and the Scottish Traditions of Dance Trust. Out of sixty three successful arts funding awards, only one is promoting Scottish Traditional arts.
This decision will put numerous groups at risk of closure, and could undo the sterling efforts of (mainly) volunteers who have played a major role in the renaissance of traditional music.

It is easy for anyone in the voluntary sector to become paranoid about funding – but it does not mean that they are not out to get you! The Scottish Council of Voluntary Services estimates that over 2,500 groups have already had funding cut as a result of money being held back or redirected because of the London Olympics and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

What money is available for the Arts (in Scotland, at any rate) appears to be directed in accordance with the latest buzz words for funders – ‘new’, ‘innovative’ and ‘big’. Festivals and large events have a chance of getting the scraps from the funding table, particularly if they can demonstrate the event will increase local tourism and be good for local businesses. Last year’s Highland Year of Culture and next year’s Homecoming funding streams are particular examples of this. This leaves community and grass roots groups who are trying to improve the quality of local life in the funding wilderness.

Rural groups are particularly at risk. Recent fuel cost hikes has meant that tutors and bands have understandably had to try to renegotiate fees; putting on a concert in a rural area, where there are few professional musicians, now costs between three and four times the costs of running the same event in an urban setting because of the costs of a daily rather than hourly fee, travel and accommodation.

Yet this funding crisis has to be looked at in the context of a huge revival. Many festivals, such as Celtic Connections held in Glasgow each January, are selling more tickets than ever. Fiddle workshops, such as ours, who teach in schools, are finding children and their parents are desperate for fiddle tuition. The demand is undoubtedly there, but unless grass roots workshops are supported, where are the future musicians for courses at the academies such as RSAMD and Newcastle going to come from? If village hall venues are not encouraged, where are the up and coming professional musicians going to perform?

All groups who feel they have something to offer want more money, and it would be naive to think they could all be fully funded, but future closures – of which I fear there will be many - will not just be for lack of funding. Many groups who are struggling will cite ‘volunteer burn out’ as a main cause. This is exacerbated by the sheer time taken by multiple funding applications and reports back. In our seven years of running the Workshop we have had to make 35 funding applications, often to the same bodies but under different funding streams. No two bodies have the same requirements for financial reporting, and no efforts are made to simplify the funding procedures. Employees of funders and councils seem to have little perception of how long this takes and no real experience of dealing with the voluntary sector. If they had to spend 40% of their year applying for their next year’s salary I wonder how effective they could be at their job!

Workshops and cultural groups have a lot to add to our cultural life, but are treated as supplicants rather than partners. There is little or no communication
with them as to the strategy for the Arts and they have no chance of involvement in decision - making processes. A new stream of funding is occasionally announced for which they all then have to scrabble. If they were treated as partners in the development of the Arts they could bring substantial expertise to the table, which would be enormously beneficial to the future of culture.

It is a cliché, but it is valid - ‘nations that fail to invest in their own creative life eventually wither and die.’ We need this investment to sustain what has been a remarkable period of achievement in our cultural life. I fear that much of the expenditure focuses overmuch on GDP, tourism and high profile events, rather than on community and future sustainability of our culture. The risk is that the costs will, in the future, be seen as a grudging expenditure rather than as an investment.

Mark Morpurgo helps run the award winning Lochgoilhead Fiddle Workshop in Cowal, Argyll. They teach, in a small rural area, 90 children and 20 adults; put on residential musical weekends; come and try’s; and about 10 professional concerts a year. More details on www.fiddleworkshop.co.uk


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