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Protect Our Art

Kaitlin Dryburgh

What we see before us in slow motion is a wrecking ball being smashed into the arts sector. With every swing we’re seeing the infrastructure crumble a bit more, talent leaving, and the morale among the creatives who helped to keep this sector punching above its weight at an all time low. Fear and despair at the current disregard for Scottish arts has left many artists, writers, and filmmakers worried how much more it can take before the damage becomes irreversible.

In less than a month we’ve borne witness to three substantial creative organisations lose out on funding and close up shop. First came the Aye Write Literary festival staged in Glasgow, failing to secure funding from Creative Scotland has meant that the festival which has run successfully for several years will not go ahead. Following on from that a film talent initiative, Short Circuit has stated after June they will have little option but to stop due to funding cuts and days later MAP an arts magazine announced that due to uncertain funding they too will be closing down after two decades.

Creative Scotland, which acts as the at arm’s length arts body of the Scottish Government  have made it clear that as it stands they are only able to fund around 30% of all applications coming their way. This being spurred on by a 10% funding cut to Creative Scotland itself.

Our creative arts depends solely on this one organisation. A whole sector and our cultural capacity is directed by one singular body and because of that the voices and collective powers of Scottish artists have diminished somewhat. Creative Scotland are to an extent at the will of the Government , they produce the budget, but creative Scotland decide who then gets the funding. With all that power would you dare question the organisation that holds all the funding and single-handedly decides whether you get to keep the roof over your head or not. There is feelings of a lack of accountability and transparency surrounding Creative Scotland and their funding decisions. One example that had many people scratching their head was the successful funding application of a hardcore sex project which was granted £84,555. The Rein Project has since lost its funding, only due to a public backlash, and according to Creative Scotland will be expected to re-pay any costs. So how did an arts project which was eventually viewed in such a poor light and received criticisms from feminist advocacy organisations obtain public money, when the Aye Write festival was unable to secure funding for a lesser amount? Creative Scotland claim hoodwinking was a foot and the project made changes to its final plans, but unless they claimed it was something other than a sex show I think we’re well within our rights to know why they started to receive public money.

The problem remains that as a country we have spent a shockingly low amount on the arts, which for many years has left those making finite budget stretch further than many thought they could. Every little counted and the output was good in comparison to the poor funding input. But in all honesty the funding we give to the arts is pitiful: one of the very lowest in Europe, 0.5% of investments and decreasing. It has been made abundantly clear that the Government in recent years have shown little commitment and value to the arts sector. Unfortunately, it has meant that those working in creative industries have no option but to keep fighting their corner and prove their worth. Even promises that future funding is on its way don’t seem to have stopped the flow of talent leaving Scotland’s arts. The First Minister’s announcement that they intend to double funding for the arts over the next five years is a good start but will take too long. Currently we’re asking many artists to work below minimum wage, with little ability to plan for the long-term. In 2016 a report by Creative Scotland found that the average annual salary was £15,000, already way below the living wage. Scotland’s cultural pull depends too much on artists having to live off of very little wages, why do we continue to push them further?

Perhaps many were content with being known as the country with world famous arts and comedy festival, which helped to mask the fact that Scotland does not pioneer the up and coming or the independent artist. Well currently that plan isn’t looking up, because if we keep this up we’ll be known as the country with a world-famous comedy festival which no comedian can afford to attend. Even before Covid it was common knowledge that the costs of attending the Fringe were spiralling out of control, accommodation, ticket prices and prices for actually putting on a show. The independent artists may have been pricey but hey, there’s still the big names. Well now that plan is slowly circling the drain. In recent weeks both Gail Porter and Jason Manford have made certain that even for big names like them who will undoubtedly sell out their venues, are unable to make the Fringe work financially. Even though Gail Porter’s 2023 shows sold out she has pulled out of the 2024 Fringe due to the astronomical accommodation costs. While Jason Manford expects to make a loss this year, he shares the thoughts of many, how on earth can some starting out be expected to meet these costs? Manford and Porter as well as other esteemed comedian Richard have made it clear that only the wealthy can attend, this coming from people you would assume to have more money backing them than the average artist. Up and coming comic Eva Bindeman says it would be “insanity” for her to attend this year’s Fringe, having performed 13 shows at last year’s Fringe. For her performing at the Fringe has become a luxury.

The Fringe has become more of an education in marketing than a celebration of the performing arts. The extent to which big brands are plastered over every inch of central Edinburgh during the Fringe is sad. Big entertainment companies such as Underbelly and Gilded Balloon help to exacerbate the reality that only those with some wealth can attend and perform. Yet companies such as Underbelly receive thousands in funding from the Scottish Government and little of that money is being funnelled through to benefit the actual artists. The Fringe is a prime example of corporate extraction, a top down system which values bigger businesses, many of whom are not based in Scotland, enabling them to profit from funding and support that should be going directly to the artists themselves. We are coming too close to becoming a black hole of culture and it’s about time we got our priorities right.

1 thought on “Protect Our Art”

  1. When you consider that some of the money that Creative Scotland intended to use to fund a hardcore sex show came from the taxes of low paid workers struggling to feed and clothe their families, it completely undermines the case for ‘the Arts’ to receive funding from general taxation.

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