Kevin Buckle: It's hard not to be cynical as funding is dished out
All the fuss over the recent invite-only meeting organised by the Scottish government to develop a new cultural plan really came as no surprise given my recent forays into the murky world of the arts and arts funding. What does surprise me is how while everybody involved knows how things are, with those that benefit doggedly holding on to keep the status quo and those that are disadvantaged doing nothing about it, nothing has changed for decades.
Now given my small involvement in these matters I can see why people either don’t do anything or try and give up. First of all there is a well organised body of folk ready at a moment’s notice to repel any mention of the fact that things might not be quite right and secondly often those who have tried to use the system and failed are simply labelled as poor losers who are simply moaning because they were unsuccessful.
This is of course common on the festival circuit which is often based on a nod and a wink and yet any band complaining that they are never given a chance despite often impressive credentials are said to be whingeing just because of their omission.
Certainly the list that was provided for attendees at the meeting to decide this new cultural plan was a strange one from any perspective and while it is said there will be more open discussions in the future it really hasn’t got off to the best of starts when with so much cynicism already about events like this it is essential that people believe in the process if it is going to be a success.
Of course open meetings still don’t guarantee that a wide range of voices will be heard. Some sectors in the arts are more active and well organised than others and you can be sure that a lot of the discussion will be about people fighting their own corner rather than any thoughts on the bigger picture.
Add into the mix an obsession at all levels with being seen to be treating minority groups and those perceived to be discriminated against or disadvantaged fairly and the whole thing is complicated before it has started. Everybody should be treated equally, given the same chances and offered the same support as a given.
When the most recent Creative Scotland news opens with the words “transgender choirs” this is symptomatic of how they want to portray themselves. There will also I should add be something called Turntable encouraging “record collection conversations”. Everyday conversation in any record shop turned into “art” and attracting a grant.
It is indeed very, very hard not to be cynical about many of the projects that are funded. Four lads in their mid-twenties singing about struggling to get a girlfriend or being dumped by their girlfriend would be given short shrift despite that being the basis of many a classic pop song. Too old for all that youth music funding and no mention of social issues puts them at a disadvantage from the start.
There have always been political bands and, yes, some did define themselves that way but now so many artists define themselves based on the issues they tackle that it comes across that they want support not because they make good music but because of the sentiment of their songs and that is a very different thing indeed. There is many a dreadful song about a very worthy cause.
At least with music people normally agree on what is music good or bad. Sure there are grey areas where it may be music or faulty air conditioning but generally you know where you are. A film is a film and a theatre show is definitely a show no matter how bad but in the visual arts everything goes out of the window.
Everybody can agree a drawing or painting may be good or bad but soon things veer off into a world where everyday objects are deemed to be art just because the artist says so or has placed them in a certain way. One artist friend of mine once gave me the advice that if somebody had to explain why something was art then it probably wasn’t art!
All of these things go into the melting pot of culture and only scratch the surface of what is involved. A cultural plan and funding are of course two different things but they are inextricably linked. Are things that are popular to be funded or as seems to be the case at the moment are things that are deemed worthy but not popular to receive the majority of funds?
So yes the new cultural plan for Scotland has not got off to a great start but it isn’t something that will be solved simply by having open meetings. Quite how that situation is remedied is another thing but it should at least be acknowledged.
Pretty in pink – and on vinyl
Roddy Woomble has a new album out on September 1 inspired he says by Paul McCartney and Leonard Cohen so aiming high!
Going by the new single Like Caruso and described as “playful and surreal”, The Deluder is definitely more of a solo album by the Idlewild frontman than the folk albums he has produced previously.
There is an indies-only pink vinyl too in a gatefold sleeve of which the distributor tells me they only have 300.
Those wanting to guarantee a copy can order here http://vsilly.com/avalanche_shop/index.php?id_product=310&controller=product or I’m sure your local record shop will be happy to take an order and reserve a copy.