Culture strategy must be for the many not just the privileged few

Brenda Aitchison
Brenda Aitchison

Congress supported a call from the Musicians Union welcoming the Scottish Government’s commitment to the development of a Cultural Strategy for Scotland and urging all unions to take part in the consultation process.

The General Council will monitor this to make sure employment rights including pay, health and safety, diversity and status of artists are not undermined.

Rab Noakes
Rab Noakes

Moving the motion, musician Rab Noakes told delegates that whilst the review was welcome it needed to ensure creative freedom and make sure that artists were not subject to “a recipe for restrictions, prescriptions, exclusions and bland, approved outcomes.”

Rab warned: “The idea of artists having to adhere to a notion of ‘What the country wants’ is, to say the least, potentially stifling. As an artist myself, I don’t much relish the thought of feeling the culture polis standing looking over my shoulder with a wagging finger and a shake of the head should I stray into territories out of kilter with ‘what the country wants’.

He also called for access to be inclusive for everyone and not just the privileged few.

Supporting the motion, UNISON’s Brenda Aitchison echoed this call and began by highlighting the fact that many well-known actors attended fee paying public schools. She added however, that to participate and enjoy arts and culture should be a right for all, not just the privileged few.

She pointed to the important role that our members in local government play, whether in museums, libraries or arts centres, providing “a wealth of education and enjoyment to all members of our communities.”

She welcomed a culture strategy which “can only help to ensure we are inclusive and not exclusive. There should be no barriers to participation either as an artist or a consumer,” said Brenda.

She referred to UNISON Scotland’s submission to the Scottish Government’s Poverty and Attainment Inquiry which identified that a key driver of attainment is the chance to undertake educationally enhancing activities such as going to the theatre, music concerts, art exhibitions, art classes, acting classes and dance classes.

“But ten years of austerity have made deep cuts in Local Government budgets and household income,” warned Brenda, adding that it is those who need our help the most who are disproportionately affected and excluded from the arts.

She quoted Andria Zafirakou, the winner of the Global teacher prize who said: “Too often we neglect the power of the arts to transform lives, particularly in the poorest communities.”

Brenda urged: “If there is political will this can be changed. Let’s work together across the trade union movement in Scotland to provide an initiative for culture for the many and not just the few. Let Scotland lead the way.”

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