Lammermuir Festival's treatment highlights Scotland’s broken culture landscape – Brian Ferguson
and live on Freeview channel 276
If anyone was in doubt over whether Scotland’s cultural landscape is badly in need of repair, they need look no further than at the treatment of one of its modern-day success stories.
The Lammermuir Festival has, by any standards, been a beacon of excellence since it was launched to bring high-quality classical music events to historic venues across East Lothian 13 years ago.
It was named the best event in the UK by the Royal Philharmonic Society in its seventh year, has tripled in size since it launched, seen concerts staged across more than 50 different venues and now attracts more than half of its audiences from outwith East Lothian.
Outside the cities, there cannot be many parts of Scotland that have regularly managed to secure regular visits from Scottish Opera, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Dunedin Consort and the National Youth Choir of Scotland.
Despite this track record, Scotland’s national arts agency has rejected three attempts to secure £80,000 worth of funding this year.
This decision has brought an inevitable tidal wave of criticism down on Creative Scotland, to round off a frankly brutal 12 months, during which it has made next to no meaningful progress in persuading the Scottish Government of the case for more support for the arts. Its only real explanation of the “difficult” decision has been to blame growing demand for its funding.
I could not help but wonder if it has decided to pull the plug on the Lammermuir Festival to demonstrate the desperate state of the cultural landscape it presides over because the same fate is almost certainly awaiting other festivals given the pressures on Creative Scotland’s budgets.
Event organisers around the country are no doubt already wondering about their prospects of securing backing if an event as highly regarded and successful as the East Lothian one has effectively been branded worthless by Scotland's arts funding system.
This time last year, Creative Scotland was the first arts organisation to raise the alarm over the impact of a “perfect storm” of factors cripp;ing the cultural sector – the prolonged impact of Covid, the fall-out from Brexit, rising energy costs, demands for wages to keep place with inflation, and a talent drain out of the industry, all compounded by the Scottish Government’s refusal to end standstill funding for culture.
Creative Scotland’s recent dossier for the Scottish Parliament's culture committee painted a picture even grimmer than the one it presented MSPs with last year.
Remarkably, it is still waiting for the Scottish Government to hand over the remainder of its budget for this financial year, despite ministers being forced into reversing a planned cut by an industry backlash.
Creative Scotland has already signalled to the government and the wider culture sector that it expects the value of forthcoming applications for long-term funding support to far outstrip its available budget. If estimate that one in three arts organisations are at risk of insolvency in the short term should have set alarm bells within the government, but it does not appear to have woken up to the crisis yet.
The government is actually several months late in updating a national cultural strategy it published just before the pandemic, but which it has simply failed to live up to so far.
The next few months will define whether the vision set out in the culture blueprint of Scotland being a place where culture is “valued, protected and nurtured” and its “transformative potential is experienced by everyone” has proved to be meaningless rhetoric.
The independent organisation Culture Counts has told MSPs that Scotland’s culture budget needs to increase by a third – which would amount to around £104 million to begin to tackle this crisis. Such a move, which raise government spending on culture to just 0.76 per cent of its overall budget, would certainly be the first step to ensure there are no further funding fiascos like the Lammermuir Festival one.