Culture Strategy for Scotland: Culture Secretary's speech

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop addresses an event at Glasgow Women's Library.

Thank you all for coming today to be part of what is an early and exploratory conversation around the development of a Culture Strategy for Scotland. Today is the start of a much wider conversation that will draw in the views of many.

As the minister responsible for culture for the last eight years, I am proud of what is being achieved, and inspired by what I have observed and experienced. We now have an opportunity to take stock, to bring our different views together, to ask questions of ourselves and to ask if now is the time to reimagine how we think about culture in our country. The Strategy will be a vision for the country and to purpose priorities and partnerships.

The Scottish Government was elected on a manifesto commitment to develop a Culture Strategy for Scotland based on the three interlinked principles of access, equity and excellence.

These principles are not fixed – they are the principles I propose – but for now they allow us a framework for conversation, to provoke and prompt debate and discussion. Do they, as guiding principles, allow us to consider a vision for culture within a wider vision for Scotland?

So tell us what you think of them today.

We are seeing the strategy as a way to articulate a vision for culture that describes culture's relationship and role across all aspects of society. It's an opportunity to demonstrate the many ways that creativity and culture contribute and influence, whether it be the way we live our lives, our progress as a nation and its expression of democracy and what our value system is. It is not a state view on culture; its intention is to liberate and support, not to define and limit.

There is a framed poem which has been hanging on the concrete walls of my office in the Scottish Parliament for the last few years, gifted to me by Janice Galloway. It's a poem by Don Paterson that was commissioned in 2005 to mark the publication of the Cultural Commission. Don is not with us today but I would like to read it to you.

We, the Scottish people, undertake
To find within our culture a true measure
Of the mind's vitality and spirit's health;
To see that what is best in us is treasured,
And what is treasured, held as common wealth;
To guarantee all Scots folk, of whatever
Age or origin, estate or creed,
The means and the occasion to discover
Their unique gift, and let it flower and seed;
To act as democratic overseer
Of our whole culture: wise conservator
Of its tradition, its future's engineer,
The only engine of its living hour;
To take just pride in all our diverse tongues,
Folks and customs – and also what is yet
Most distinct in us: our infinite songs,
Our profligate invention and thrawn debate;
To honour our best artists, and respect
Not just the plain cost of their undertaking
But the worth of what they make, and every act
Of service and midwifery to that making;
And to discover, through our artistry
And fine appreciation of our art,
What we are not – so know ourselves to be
The world, both in microcosm and part,
And recognise in this our charge of care
To friend and stranger, bird and beast and tree,
To the planetary and local space we share.
We will do this wakefully, and imaginatively.

Apart from the fact that I like it very much and I wanted to start my remarks with poetry, I use it as a reminder that we must see everything in context. In the context that this is not the first national discussion on culture since devolution, and the context must also embrace our place in the world and in history – our own, European and global. So what does access to European and world artistic, classical excellence mean today? And in the context of a world still riven with inequality, how can we have equity of access? The world of course changes all the time, yet it does feel like perhaps we are at a moment in time where our response to the current context will define how history sees us.

In the last 20 years we have seen major developments in technology and social media which have radically changed the ways that culture is made, shared and distributed. As a sector we have seen many changes since 2005. We have the national performing companies in a direct relationship with Government, and new organisations in Creative Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland. We have a Parliament with increased devolved powers.

And we have the vote for Brexit. The Scottish Government understands the risks that Brexit brings in terms of ongoing uncertainty around the single market, funding, free movement of people and how perceptions of difference can be exacerbated by debate that focuses on the negative aspects of freedom of movement and immigration rather than the positive. We need to consider what culture can do to help us through these challenging times, and do all that we can – collectively – to challenge any perception that Scotland is closing itself off to wider Europe.

There are now an estimated 80,000 jobs in the creative industries (including heritage and museums), and we know that this figure has been increasing year on year since 2011, following the global economic recession of 2008.

More broadly, and alongside the ever shifting political landscape, there are other factors that will change and challenge us, not just as a sector but as a society as a whole. Young people and their fluency in technology, demographic shifts including a rapidly ageing population, growing health and educational inequality, migration and climate change.

Within this changing world, culture and creativity are fundamental and enduring aspects of human existence, allowing us to freely express ourselves so that as individuals, communities and nations we can make sense of the worlds we live in, and can imagine other worlds.

This morning I was delighted to launch The Engine Shed in Stirling. The Engine Shed is Scotland's new dedicated building conservation centre. Run by Historic Environment Scotland, it serves as a central hub for building and conservation, professionals and the general public. It's a wonderful new and world-leading resource using digital technology with iPads and virtual reality that shows us the many ways that our culture and heritage help us to learn from the past to shape the future. It's a powerful reminder that the marks we make, the traces we leave on the world and the ways that we care and conserve are the legacy that we leave our future generations. It is part of the Government support to regenerate Stirling. This morning it was swarming with children from Riverside Primary School with virtual reality headsets exploring Maeshowe and imagining places perhaps they may never have the chance to visit. More importantly it is free and open to all.

I have the great pleasure of travelling around Scotland to experience our rich culture, and I have seen its impact around the world. I often reflect on the history of culture in Scotland and it strikes me that we have always been a nation of makers and storytellers. How we make and tell stories changes as the world changes. It's important to understand your own heritage, culture and languages. Having our own indigenous languages of Gaelic and Scots is integral to the distinctive nature of culture in Scotland. It's equally important to be open and welcoming of the new, the innovative and the different, and to see our culture in an international context.

Culture or cultures in Scotland have always done this, spanning distinct traditions and innovative approaches. Culture belongs to all of us and we all have our own cultures and cultural identities; we all lead plural cultural lives.

Evidence shows that high numbers of people across Scotland already engage in culture, in a wide range of different ways, and that figure is growing.

Yet underneath this success story is a set of growing challenges.

The argument for culture is understood, ambition is high and demand increasing, yet funding is under pressure and is often short-term. We understand the critical role of public funding and the need for longer-term budgets to support planning. We are open to new ideas and approaches about how the sector can be better supported in a tight budgetary context. We must also have an eye to the wider context of EU funding that currently flows to the sector, and the potential implications of Brexit on alternative source of funds.

We also need to address the issue of inequality in culture. As a Government we are committed to tackling inequalities and making Scotland a stronger, fairer, more inclusive society. How a nation values its artists and creative people is an insight into the values of that society.

Artists and freelancers too often experience challenging working patterns and uneven rates of pay. There are still too many instances of freelancers being expected to work for very little or for free. And for some, a freelance career is simply unsustainable unless they have some other means of support. The status of the cultural workforce and ways to improve their economic and social position is something that we are interested in exploring as the strategy develops. Without the ideas and contributions of artists and creative people we are all poorer. It is artists who often think in ways that are beyond our current understanding of the world.

Artists, and creative people more broadly, contribute to society in ways that are sometimes only truly understood when we look back with the distance of time. Supporting risk, supporting people to work as artists, to explore and inquire, benefits all of us now, and into the future.

As I have said, figures for engagement are growing, but the evidence shows that there are inequalities within this increasing engagement. Those from lower socio-economic groups, living in poverty and areas needing regeneration, or people living with a long-term physical or mental health condition, and those who do not have university degrees, are not engaging in culture as we currently define it to the same extent as the larger population. This leads us to ask two questions of ourselves.

Firstly, perhaps we have spent too long analysing audiences and not looking at the diversity of the sector itself. It is only through the sector diversifying, and being inclusive and equitable itself, that audiences will evolve to more accurately represent society in Scotland today.

And secondly, if we expand our view of what culture is, our understanding of people's cultural lives will be greatly enhanced. We will see that people do engage with culture in a huge range of ways, formal and informal, traditional and emerging, and in ways that are highly visible to us and in ways that are more discreet and personal.

I am particularly interested in the role that culture has in providing us with spaces and opportunities to bring ideas and people together. I am sure David Greig from the Lyceum in Edinburgh will share with us today his thinking on the constructed space and the ways that art can create special types of encounters between people and the ideas that shape the world we live in. I am aware that David's ideas on the constructed space are perhaps more relevant to theatre. Of course, the artistic and creative process can be both a public and a very private one.

Our vision of the future is that Scotland is an open, outward-looking nation, with its cultural and creative individuals and organisations working across Scotland and the world. We will welcome people from other places and the rich diversity of cultures and languages they bring with them.

As the Scottish Government, we believe that culture lies at the heart of Scotland's future, offering opportunities to experience life through a wide and enriching range of perspectives, whether through, dance, literature and language, music, screen, technology, theatre, visual arts or through the objects we make and collect, or the buildings and places we design, protect and cherish.

The strategy must be underpinned by a shared vision that articulates the powerful and transformative effect that culture and creativity have. I challenge anyone not to be astounded by Scottish Ballet and Dance Base's groundbreaking work with people living with Parkinson's Disease and the positive impact that dance can have on improving balance, spatial awareness, confidence and movement.

We know that culture has intrinsic value and that it also contributes both directly and indirectly to the health, wealth and success of our nation. We want Scotland to be a place where culture thrives and everyone has the opportunity to participate freely in a vibrant cultural and creative life of their choice.

That's why the strategy will set out the ways that Scotland supports and values culture and the imaginative role of artists, cultural producers, creative businesses and cultural organisations in shaping and contributing to a fair, democratic, diverse, innovative, international and open society.

More than anything, the strategy is an opportunity for us to position culture as a human right, where the right to creative expression, the right to participate and the right to earn a living from artistic and cultural pursuits is widely recognised across society.

We should also use it as an opportunity to ask questions of ourselves:

  • How equitable are we as a sector?
  • Is the sector diverse enough to support access for all?
  • How do we nurture excellence to flourish and thrive?
  • And what does excellence mean in today's world, in an international and domestic sense?
  • Why are there still so many barriers in Scotland's communities?
  • Is there equitable provision across the geography of Scotland?
  • And what can we all do to support the more vulnerable in our sector and in society?
  • Could we do more to support inclusivity in the sector so that the culture sector becomes an inclusive employer?

We need to work through the opportunities and the challenges that increasing demand and decreasing resource create by exploring ways to support all aspects of the sector to thrive – to maximise the budgets and assets that we do have, build on existing strengths and support new approaches, including reflecting on the ways that we could co-operate and collaborate with each other and other sectors.

In conclusion, there are challenges but there is also unrealised potential everywhere.

The ideas and views generated and gathered here will help us to understand your perspectives, ambitions and challenges.

Don't see this event as a one-off, but rather as part of an ongoing debate around the role that culture has in all our futures. We are keen to take the conversation to as many people as possible; please do let us know if you would like to host your own conversations. We are keen to extend the conversation to those that we don't always reach; please speak to my team about ways that you can support us with this. I am keen to visit as many places in Scotland as I can to have this conversation.

Place, and opportunity, is important in this conversation about culture. As a child of about nine or ten years of age, I walked past a certain little white cottage in Ayrshire every day on my way to school. I also wrote poetry most days – I thought that was what everyone did, because there was a young man who came from my village who wrote poetry and is renowned across the world. How do we make sure that culture seems as natural to everybody, where they're growing up? It's only over the years that I have perhaps understood that very special relationship between the place, the cottage and my desire to write poetry and to enjoy the (much better) poetry of others.

I would like to thank Glasgow Women's Library for being such warm and welcoming hosts today. It feels like the perfect setting for us to gather and debate. If we feel the need for more inspiration, we have the words of wisdom of many women around us today.

Today is just the start: you are all here, not because you are more important (or special) than anyone else but because you are first...

Thank you and let's start the conversation – it is not the first conversation in world history of cultural dialogue, but I think Scotland at this time, at this moment, can be a powerful voice for culture in a positive thoughtful and practical way. I look forward to hearing your views.


Email: – Central Enquiry Unit

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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