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Andrew Eaton-Lewis: Most towns don’t have an Alasdair Gray or an Alex Kapranos to make a fuss

Polymath Alasdair Gray in his flat in the West End of Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry

Polymath Alasdair Gray in his flat in the West End of Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry

GLASGOW’S artists, writers and musicians made so much noise about the new Criminal Justice and Licensing Act last weekend that you could be forgiven for thinking the law was only going to affect that city, rather than the whole of Scotland. It took four more days for the rest of the country to wake up to what is potentially a bombshell for the arts.

In case you missed all this, as of 1 April this year all exhibitions will need to pay for public entertainment licences, even if they’re free and in a temporary space. If rigorously enforced, this law could destroy grassroots culture as we know it in Scotland – not just art but comedy, music, poetry readings, film screenings, parties, and any other events put on by people who want to express themselves, experiment, create a scene and inspire and entertain those around them, but who don’t have the money to shell out over £100 per event for an entertainment licence, or the time to get bogged down in weeks of bureaucracy.

It’s easy to see why Glasgow woke up to the problem first. Much of the city’s cultural identity, in recent years, has been built upon its world-renowned DIY art and music scene. Franz Ferdinand famously played their first gigs in a derelict warehouse called the Chateau, which staged gigs and exhibitions that were talked about internationally – and not just because of the Franz connection.

The Chateau went on to become part of the Glasgow International art festival, as did numerous artists and curators who had found their feet by putting on shows in whatever free spaces they could find, from disused shops to their own homes.

The sense of community and possibility created in a place like this, where Turner Prize winners and famous bands mingle informally with a younger generation of artists and musicians, passing on knowledge and contacts, is one of the main reasons why the city’s artists are so successful.

Glasgow City Council seems to recognise the value of this and looks as if it will take steps to protect it. This, hopefully, will set a precedent for decisions made across the rest of Scotland. At time of writing a national campaign is gathering pace, having begun not in Glasgow but Edinburgh, a city whose artists know all too well how difficult it is to create a thriving grassroots scene, as venues constantly close to make space for offices or flats.

Please support this campaign. Most towns don’t have an Alasdair Gray or an Alex Kapranos to make a big public fuss. Instead, they need emails and letters to councillors. Lots of them. So write one.

 

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