Jim Tough: Let’s celebrate Scotland’s diverse culture

This year's Saltire Civil Engineering Award was given to the new Haymarket Station development. Picture: Ian Rutherford
This year's Saltire Civil Engineering Award was given to the new Haymarket Station development. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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The Saltire Society is forging new partnerships, says Jim Tough

We want Scottish culture to thrive. We want our artists, scientists, writers, engineers, architects, writers and musicians to have their talent nurtured, their achievements recognised and celebrated.

We want our different languages respected and supported. We want our history and heritage to be valued, spoken about and shared. That’s all!

We are privileged to be able to call on the voluntary efforts of expert panels, branches, members and our council, supported by a small staff team of three, to help us towards these ambitions.

Increasingly, it is the work we are able to do in partnership with those who share our passions that help us punch above our weight. A cynic might define “working in partnership” as “the suppression of mutual loathing in pursuit of government funding”.  This is neither our view nor our experience. We have been promiscuous in recent years in making common cause with several exceptional partners.

Some are long standing. Since 1981, we have worked with the Institution of Civil Engineers in Scotland to celebrate and promote the work of an industry that is fundamental to the quality of life in any modern nation.

This year’s Saltire Civil Engineering Award was given to the new Haymarket Station development, beating off competition from an impressive shortlist that included the new Borders Railway and the redevelopment of Hampden Park for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The more recent partnerships are equally productive. The British Council Scotland have been generous in their support of a series of International Travel Bursaries for recent graduates, demonstrating a shared commitment to encouraging an outward-looking perspective among Scotland’s students. Being able to tap into British Council’s truly global network is invaluable.

In addition, our International Travel Bursary for music has seen us partner with Live Music Now Scotland, boasting impressive expertise and a fantastic network of talented young musicians. They were even able to find our Kirriemuir Branch two exceptional performers at 24 hours’ notice – that’s what a good partner can do.

Our interest in the visual arts and crafts goes way back. We presented an exhibition of work by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, in partnership with the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1954. Today, we have the prestigious Saltire Award for Art in Public Places. With ambitions to do more in this area, the opportunity to work with Edinburgh Art Festival last year was perfect.

With some generous support from our sister body, the Saltire Society Trust, we were able to give three recent graduates their first opportunity to stage a solo exhibition at the festival.

We have other irons in the visual arts fire too. A collaboration with the Steven Campbell Trust will see us offer an international artist exchange with the City University of New York.

We also have an exciting new partnership with Edinburgh University offering bursaries for MSc students to 
support their final year research projects.

Working with new partners helps us to tackle one of our biggest challenges: namely, that our existing membership is of an older generation. Our members are of course valued, active and committed. But to be able to continue, our work has to peak the interest of a new generation. To that end, we will be working with Edinburgh Student Arts Festival and the Buchanan Institute on a series of events in February 2016 to attract a new audience. It’s interesting how quickly and easily an octogenarian cultural charity and a brand new student-led festival have been able to find common ground.

Next year will also see the second Outstanding Women of Scotland programme. This year was an outstanding success, giving proper recognition to the achievements of exceptional women in contemporary Scotland.

Our partnership with the mighty Glasgow Women’s Library has been a perfect fit and we expect it to produce even bigger and better things in years to come.

So as we look towards the “Saltire Celebrates 80 Years of Inspiration” programme in 2016, our door is always open to making new friendships. Step one for your organisation might be to join us as an Affiliate (details on our website) or simply picking up the phone for a blether.

Jim Tough is Executive Director of the Saltire Society, visit www.saltiresociety.org.uk