Associate feature: Banging the drum for Scotland’s creativity

Written by Jenni Davidson on 3 September 2017 in Feature

The arts have a huge impact on Scotland, both economically and socially, and we need to talk more about it, says Creative Scotland’s Janet Archer

Janet Archer, chief executive of Creative Scotland - Image credit: Creative Scotland

Creative Scotland chief executive Janet Archer took up her current post in 2013 following a lifelong career working in dance and the arts as a practitioner and policymaker across the UK and internationally.

She is extremely positive about Scotland and all that it has to offer.

“It’s been hugely exciting to live and breathe the breadth and range of practice that exists here and I see our job as lifting it up into the spotlight.

“It’s founded in a deep history of ideas generation and creative endeavour, rooted in Scotland’s history of enlightenment and the intellectual curiosity that came out of it.

“We’re a nation of innovators. I think that’s an incredible natural resource.”

She continues: “There’s a real advantage to being Scottish at this point, I think, in terms of how we hold dialogue and communication with Europe, how we hold dialogue and communication with other parts of the world; it opens doors in a really exciting way.

“So our job is to maximise on that and to continue to find ways of supporting everybody involved in arts and creativity in Scotland to join together around unlocking that potential.”


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Perhaps nothing demonstrates this more than the Edinburgh festivals, two of which – the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – are celebrating their 70th anniversaries this year.

Undoubtedly, they provide an exceptional platform for showcasing creativity, both from home and abroad, but are they a catalyst for the arts in general in Scotland?

“I think they’re not just a catalyst for the arts, I think they’re a catalyst for Scotland,” Archer answers.

“I think the festivals in Edinburgh and across Scotland are synonymous with people’s perspective on Scotland.

“And I think they act as a magnet to bring folk into Scotland...When you look at inward investment and decisions by companies to move to Scotland, the festivals – and Scotland’s creativity more broadly – play a significant part in that.”

The creative industries directly contribute £3.7bn GVA to the Scottish economy and support 73,600 jobs. The impact goes far beyond the economic, though.

Scotland’s population is very engaged with culture, with 92 per cent of the population engaging in a creative activity, according to the Scottish Household Survey, 58 per cent on a weekly basis. And culture and creativity is highly valued.

Independent research commissioned by Creative Scotland in 2016 reveals that 88 per cent consider Scotland to be a creative nation, 89 per cent support public funding for the arts and culture and 77 per cent said their area would lose something if it lost its arts and creative activities.

Arts and culture are seen as beneficial in so many different ways, with the most commonly reported benefits of taking part in creative activities being that they help us to relax and make us feel good and there is a growing body of evidence which demonstrates the impact of culture in other policy areas. 

For example, the importance of creative education that gives children and young people skills for whatever walk of life they go into or tackling the challenges of mental health.

Creative Scotland’s funding is divided into three strands, and it has a regularly funded portfolio of organisations – at the moment there are 118 organisations across the country – all of which reach out into their communities to offer a range of cultural and creative practice: dance, theatre, music, literature, visual arts and film.

“The impact of those organisations is actually really significant,” Archer says.

“We put in about £100 million over three years, just under, at the moment [and] that helps generate just over £300 million in partnership match funding from local authorities, trusts and foundations, commercial sponsorship or other earned income, so that the value added in terms of the investment we’re able to put in is really tremendous.

“That creates a lot of opportunity for a lot of people across the country.”

Creative Scotland also works in partnership with local authorities on grassroots programmes, but Archer highlights that it’s not just about programmes, but also individual artists and arts organisations with a specific aim of socially engaged practice.

She mentions the Stove Network in Dumfries and Galloway, the Glasgow Women’s Library, Young Productions making the Gaelic language drama Bannan on Skye and Sistema, a charity providing an orchestral programme for children and young people in deprived areas.

Speaking of one Sistema project, she says: “I’ve met some of the young people in Raploch who’ve told me their stories in terms of the challenges that they’ve faced in their life very early on, the transformative effect that regular engagement with, in that instance, music – but it could be any art form – has made to the way that they think about themselves, the way that they hold a new kind of confidence in relation to what their opportunities might be and the way that they’re approaching their education, because the gain that they get from creativity has opened up to a sense of possibility, aspiration and attainment that perhaps they weren’t getting from their family circumstances.”

Archer continues: “When something really fantastic is happening and it is making a difference and it is tangibly generating a different kind of quality of life for people, then you have to be able to tell that story and that’s why Creative Scotland is so important, because obviously we can tell that story on behalf of many people”.

The arts don’t exist in a vacuum, not only feeding into improved educational attainment, but fuelling a mindset of innovation that’s needed in many sectors. Technical innovation is especially reliant on creativity.

Archer says: “I don’t think there’s huge knowledge of how creativity fuels economic growth at that sort of scale…but I think it’s important that that message gets out, because if you can amplify that Scotland’s doing well at the moment and the data backs that up, if we could really focus and amplify that, then the gain is immense.”

The subsidies that Creative Scotland offers are essential to keeping the creative industries going.

“I think what’s important to remember is often we separate out culture and creative industries. Actually, they’re completely woven together and artists and practitioners will sit across arts and screen and creative industries in different ways and effectively have portfolio careers.”

Scotland has held steady in terms of its support for the arts compared to other parts of the UK over the past decade. The Scottish Government spends circa 0.5 per cent of its total budget on arts and culture. 

A number of other countries are now starting to step up their support, realising the return that culture and creativity delivers.

Norway, Sweden and Australia all spend more than four times we do per person and Arts Council England has recently increased its regularly funded budget by 8.4 per cent.

Creative Scotland is currently three years into a ten-year plan.

Among other things, at the moment it is looking at creating a screen unit within Creative Scotland in partnership with other agencies, evaluating its regular funded portfolio, thinking about a more networked approach to the whole creative system and considering how the organisation can provide more support to schools in how they use the attainment fund to plug into the wealth of creativity that Scotland has to offer.

But it’s in discussing the quality of the arts and creative practice in Scotland that Archer becomes most enthused.

“The quality of arts practice in Scotland is world class and that’s right across the piece. That goes right across from socially engaged practice and arts work connecting with communities to our internationally renowned artists and companies.

“Scotland’s own 400 festivals bear testimony to that, but increasingly Scotland is claiming space in festivals such as the immensely successful 2017 Lorient Festival in France, where Scottish music represented 20 per cent of the programme.

“You can also see the quality of our music shine at events like Celtic Connections, where people come from all over the world to Glasgow to listen and engage with Celtic music.

“[Thanks to] the quality of our orchestral provision, we’ve seen recent investment into a new concert hall in Edinburgh of £25m public funding to add to a substantial gift from the Dunard fund and significant private support, a tribute to the quality of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, which will make its home in this exciting new venue developed by Impact Scotland.”

“Dance, we’ve got some phenomenal examples of work with dance and disability, but we’ve also got really world class work coming through Scottish Ballet and Scottish Dance Theatre.

“Visual artists – you’ve seen the amazing 2014 programme Generation, supported by the National Galleries, Creative Scotland and Glasgow Life, showcasing 25 years of contemporary art in Scotland.

“And the screen sector is really on a roll, which is really exciting. We’re investing more than ever before and incentives like the production growth fund that we’ve put in place with the Scottish Government are generating an impressive ten to one return.

“And we’re continuing to see record-breaking increases in big productions choosing to film in Scotland. That’s very strong with spend on film and TV production in 2015 reaching £53 million, three times that of ten years ago.

“There’s a lot…When you add it all together, it tells a very important story in terms of where Scotland sits, a powerful cultural force in the world. And we all need to bang the drum more in helping tell that story.”

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