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Clare at the Art in Action Parliamentary Reception

 

Over the past five months it has been amazing to see how the Art in Action campaign has been picked up by our members, who have invited MSPs to come and see what they do. Twenty MSPs, from all political parties have made time in their schedules to head out and meet our members, artists and art organisations – sometimes more than once. We’ve witnessed some really rich conversations; there have been new links, new ideas and eyes opened.

Where did Art in Action come from?

Back in 2017, SCAN worked with our members, the Scottish Artists Union and Engage Scotland to draw up a Manifesto for the Visual Arts. In it, we made the following statements –

  • We believe that art is vital for the health and wellbeing of individuals and society
  • We recognise that artists inspire agency and change within their communities and that they play an essential role in public life

We also issued a call to policymakers to place culture at the heart of representative policy and decision making.

This Manifesto formed the foundation of the Art in Action campaign, celebrating the real impact contemporary art has across policy areas.

What was it all for?

This autumn we anticipate the announcement of a new Culture Strategy for Scotland, as well as the findings of the Culture Committee’s inquiry into arts funding. The inquiry continues to hear evidence – the most recent session, which took place on 19 September, heard views from Culture Counts, Festivals Edinburgh and Culture Aberdeen on issues such as peer review, percent for art schemes and more.  When SCAN made its submission to this inquiry, we talked of the sense of precarity our members feel, and the need for sustained, far-sighted investment in the contemporary art infrastructure to allow it to flourish.

At our SCAN Summit, held at Glasgow Womens Library in March, our members told us what was amazing about what they did – and what would hole would be left in their communities if they weren’t there.

We talked about the stubborn myths about contemporary art that still need to be busted – and that’s part of the continuing job of Art in Action, to reach MSPs and decision-makers who hold outdated views on what art is. We know that art is not a rarefied pursuit. We know that galleries provide free access to inspiring, mind-opening shows that carry Scotland’s name worldwide. And we know that artists are agents of change. We need more people to know this, too.

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Myriam Mouflih, Clare and Helen Moore of the SCAN team at the Travelling Gallery, which brought contemporary art to the steps of Parliament on the day of our reception.

And what now?

Our summer of visits is over, but that’s not the end of the hard work. One of our members, Robyn Woolston, rightly commented that it’s really just the start.  The forthcoming Culture Strategy for Scotland is one plank of the wellbeing-led National Performance Framework (and we’ll be calling on members to help us scrutinise it when it is published). Holyrood’s recent Programme for Government stated that “culture is central to our wellbeing and our social, economic and environmental prosperity”. A recent report by Arts Council England showed that arts and culture contributes £8.5bn to the UK economy, and that culture pays £2.6bn in taxes, £5 for every £1 of public funding.

Warm words and impressive figures – but the portion of the Scottish Government budget that goes to arms-length funding body Creative Scotland is just 0.2 per cent. And as many SCAN members well know, pressure on budgets comes from a local level as well as a national level.

There has been much discussion about how cultural impact is best measured; the recent Culture Committee session mentioned above is just one glimpse of it. We hope our case studies, published throughout the Art in Action campaign, give an insight into how high quality contemporary visual art can have a transformative impact. As Jacqueline Donachie put it at our recent reception, art isn’t there to ‘fix things’, but to provide ‘an open door to walk through’.

Artists think differently. We want policymakers to think differently, too. That’s why, after a summer of Art in Action, we will continue to challenge them to place art at the heart of decision-making, and to invest in the contemporary art community to build that innovative, tolerant and vibrant nation we all aspire to.

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Dr Claire Baker MSP with her print by artist Ruth Ewan bearing the words of poet, activist and mill worker Mary Brooksbank

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