The recent news of Moray Council’s plans to sever funding to its arts and culture budget comes as little surprise. As a researcher involved in this field of work, I have seen many recent examples of short-sighted policy decision-making, including the widely reported untimely closure of the Byre Theatre here in St Andrews.
However, we must ask, what price does society pay for these paltry bureaucratic savings?
All too often it has been the case that local authorities have expected to see visible large-scale impacts from their arts budgets. Yet they often have little regard for the small-scale effects that arts and culture can have on the everyday lives of local people.
Much research has been done on this area, which demonstrates the positive outcomes that can be achieved through participating in arts and cultural activities. Such examples I have seen in my own research include people in the Ardler neighbourhood of Dundee attending creative activities, learning new skills and sharing that knowledge with others.
In north Edinburgh, I have seen how participation in the arts can empower people to overcome financial or social marginalisation, which is all too endemic in Scotland.
Such activities can contribute towards creating cohesive communities, which can ultimately tackle major issues like socio-economic hardship. It is little wonder that in my research I have found the benefits of arts and culture to the individual and wider society far outweigh the costs.
Undeniably, recent political history has shown that arts and culture are always the first to be overlooked when it comes to local authority budget reviews, but we must ask why. Moray Council, like many other local authorities planning to cut their arts budgets, should not view arts and culture as a commodity or a luxury but as a fundamental human experience that should be available to everyone.
Centre for Housing Research
University of St Andrews