Popular culture in Scotland has as much right to public funding as high art – Brian Ferguson

The long-awaited reopening of concert venues and theatres in recent weeks has helped generate something of a feelgood factor for an industry in the doldrums only two months ago.

Wednesday, 29th September 2021, 4:55 am
Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream performing at the TRNSMT festival in Glasgow earlier this month.

No-one yet knows what challenges Covid will create over the autumn and winter for the events and entertainment sectors.

But the crucial levels of confidence about the future that were so low for so long during the pandemic, have been increasing week by week since the maddeningly unrealistic two-metre rule for venues and events was eased in late July.

Now, almost all of Scotland’s major venues have been able to reopen to some extent.

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And hardly a day seems to pass without a band announcing a tour, a theatre revealing its post-pandemic programme or a 2022 festival launching ticket sales.

With the darker nights heralding the onset on autumn, it feels inevitable there will be further Covid challenges ahead over the next few months.

The number of acts having to pull planned festival appearances is a sobering reminder that the cultural world has not left the virus behind.

Many of those in charge of reopened venues and rebooted events are also having to try to get their heads around the introduction of a vaccine passport scheme.

Nile Rodgers has been among the music stars to perform in Scotland in recent weeks. Picture: John Devlin

And it is undoubtedly far too early for some people to contemplate going back to a full-capacity concert hall, theatre or comedy club.

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But with confidence increasing heading towards the winter, it is also means that prospects are growing for a festive season that might just mark a return to real normality for performers and audiences.

If Scottish culture was to emerge relatively unscathed by Covid, it’s also possible to imagine the new year could herald a new era. But only if it is accompanied by some fresh thinking, particularly for the longer term.

One thing brutally exposed by the pandemic is that a complete overhaul of how the arts, culture events and festivals are funded in Scotland is needed.

The pre-Covid hierarchies for support from the Scottish government have been in place for decades and are something of a relic from the last century.

Under this system, there is direct support for the classical music, opera and theatre programmes staged by the national performing arts companies, and other long-term support, via Creative Scotland, for many other venues, events and companies.

However what became clear almost immediately after the shutdown of venues and events last year was that there were huge swathes of the cultural sector which did not get any meaningful public funding.

The pandemic has highlighted the need for a levelling of the playing field to ensure some of the most popular art forms are at the top table in future. But far too many of those involved in Scottish culture have been struggling to eke out freelance careers in an industry awash with well-paid administrators.

With the creative industries said to have been contributing £4.6 billion to the Scottish economy before the pandemic, now is the time to ensure that there is much more meaningful support – from the grassroots up.

However ensuring real progress to deliver the above will need the Scottish government to find substantially more than the £175 million it currently allocates to culture when its budget plans are published before Christmas.

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