03 November 2020

S5M-23194 Arts Funding

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Lewis Macdonald): The next item of business is a Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee debate on motion S5M-23194, in the name of John McAlpine, on arts funding.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I congratulate our convener on turning Marcel Marceau’s art on its head; the convener engaged us without images, whereas Marcel Marceau did so without speech.

More critically, like others, I affirm the importance of the arts. They take many forms and achieve many things. They can help us to cope, educate us, illuminate truth, create joy and sorrow, and even reveal who we are and change who we are.

My spouse is particularly keen on that last one, as she has the view that I am one of the least artistic and least cultural people she knows. She welcomes my very recent elevation to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee.

My personal art is photography—I take wonderful photographs. Who knows? You might agree.

The havens of art—theatres, museums and music halls—are basically unable to operate in the current environment, as we have been hearing. Clearly, that is the right decision in the face of a health crisis, but we should recognise that art maintains a crucial role in creating community—in creating a shared experience.

How will we deal with the pandemic without art? The psychological challenge that we now face might be healed by an artistic re-emergence after this sad history is over. With many months of not being able to congregate with others, to laugh with others and to be emotionally stirred by those who bring art into our homes and who bring us into theatres, art will continue to have an important role in getting us through all this. It can play a key part in healing the common sorrow that we have felt through the loss of friends and loved ones, and by being out of contact with our many friends. It is more important than we sometimes realise until we experience that loss.

It would be a grave mistake to allow art and the people who create the arts for us to wither on the vine. We need to ensure, for one thing, that we have measurements that enable us to justify some of the things that we will have to do. Specifically, I agree with the committee’s recommendation that we should establish a cultural observatory, which could draw together data to measure the spread and impact of the public funding of the arts across Scotland. If we are to achieve progress and success, we need to be able to measure it—but not to exclude particular parts from the system, because we want risk to be taken, with some things not doing as well as we might hope. If we do not know the baselines, however, we do not know when we have departed from them.

I support the recommendation that culture spend be disaggregated and provided separately, away from tourism. That would help us all to understand what we are spending at all levels of public life; it would enable us to make a proper assessment of what is going on.

We can look abroad. I am wearing my Democrat outfit today—everything is blue apart from the poppy—and, according to the arts and cultural production satellite project, which is based over there, in 2017 the arts sector in New York was worth £120 billion and in California it was worth £320 billion. That covers a range of arts.

As a recently joined member of the committee, I congratulate my predecessors on their efforts, to which I made absolutely no contribution. They were worthy efforts and worthy of debate.


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