Fiona Hyslop has been criticised for a speech declaring that every young person in the country should be able to enjoy access to the arts when cultural bodies are still grappling with the impact of cuts.
Ms Hyslop insisted that the arts must be a priority for support “even in difficult financial times” - despite more than £16m being sliced from her own budget in December.
Making a keynote speech at Glasgow’s Platform arts centre in Easterhouse, Ms Hyslop said protecting and maintaining funding for arts and culture was crucial to improve the “life chances” of people in every community.
She insisted she wanted the whole country to commit to the idea of Scotland becoming a “world leader in youth arts.”
Ms Hyslop added that cultural participation not only allowed children to experience the “joy and happiness” of the arts, but also helped them “build skills and open the door to a better future.”
National arts agency Creative Scotland has been hit with a 3.8 per cent budget cut, while the national performance companies like Scottish Opera and the National Theatre Scotland have had their funding cut by three per cent.
Scotland’s historic collections of art, artefacts and literary treasures - cared for by National Galleries of Scotland, National Museums Scotland and National Library of Scotland - have had similar cuts.
Several councils have come under fire for targeting the arts for funding cuts since the Scottish Government’s budget was announced, citing the impact of the council tax freeze over the last nine years.
Ms Hyslop, who highlighted protected funding for a £10 million youth music initiative, said: “Participation in arts and culture can help young people realise their ambitions. This can have huge benefits, and must be a priority, even in difficult financial times. At a time of continuing restraint in public finances it is very important that government continues to recognise the valuable role of the arts.”
Labour’s culture spokeswoman Claire Baker said: “Many within the sector will be asking how sincere the Government are to tackling access to arts after SNP budget cuts to the culture sector. Fiona Hyslop presided over a 10 per cent cut to the culture budget, which will have a negative impact on arts and culture right across Scotland.”
Tory culture spokeswoman Elizabeth Smith said: “Fiona Hyslop is quite right to identity the importance of the arts within education and tackling poverty and inequality but there will be many people who wonder just how that commitment stacks up against the fact that the SNP have drastically cut council budgets.
“It is these very same councils which are being forced to cut back on cultural events and access to many museums, libraries and arts institutions.”
Zara Kitson, culture spokesperson for the Greens, said: “Given that the Scottish Government has cut approximately £16m from its culture budget, and given that arts provision is likely to be one of the first areas for cuts by local authorities desperately trying to make savings, this initiative is at best a sticking plaster, and at worst, hypocritical.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Against the backdrop of UK Government cuts to Scotland’s budget, we are doing all we can to protect Scotland’s culture and historic environment.
“We are maintaining our commitment to free access to our national collections and continuing to invest in grants to performing arts organisations and the historic environment. We have maintained our investment in the youth Music initiative at £10m, recognising its success and contribution to education attainment.
“We are continuing to invest in key infrastructure such as the delivery of V&A Dundee, the Scottish National Gallery extension, and initial investment to support longer term plans for collections.
“Ongoing funding for the national collections has been reduced by three per cent. Part of the decrease in the capital budget is because projects have completed or capital spend has already been allocated.
“For example, the Theatre Royal development for Scottish Opera has now completed and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s Royal Concert Hall space has recently opened.”
Meanwhile the Scottish Government has confirmed that its Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund has been cut, from £2.25 million down to £2 million.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which has been funded through the scheme, which showcases home-grown talent, has declined to be involved this year.
However Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, the Mela, the book festival, the Fringe and the Scottish International Storytelling Festival will be among those to benefit over the next year.
Ms Hyslop said: “The Expo Fund has administered more than £17 million of direct investment since 2008.
“This year’s fund will provide creative directors with the opportunity to continue delivering world class performances, drawn from the exceptional talent we have across the whole of Scotland.
“Edinburgh’s festivals are renowned worldwide and provide a platform to showcase our rich culture and exceptional creative talent to a global audience, as well as raise the international profile of Scotland.
“The festivals contribute more than £261 million in additional tourism revenue to Scotland’s economy every year.
“We are supporting the work of Edinburgh’s festivals through the Expo fund to drive up innovation, collaboration and artist development which are all vital for the future success of our festivals and Scotland.”
Julia Amour, director of Festivals Edinburgh, said: “The Expo Fund once again recognises that our Festivals are a unique asset for Scotland.
“By providing the means to showcase Scottish talent on the unparalleled international platform that the Edinburgh Festivals represent, the Expo Fund opens up a world of opportunity for our country’s artists and thinkers.”