Fears licence law will stifle grassroots creativity

Artists like Craig Coulthard, pictured, began their careers organising free events - he has now had a major commission from the Cultural Olympiad
Artists like Craig Coulthard, pictured, began their careers organising free events - he has now had a major commission from the Cultural Olympiad
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ART curators are leading a nationwide campaign against a new entertainment licensing law for free Scottish shows and events, which they warn could destroy grassroots culture.

They claim free-ranging temporary exhibition, “pop-up” shows in homes or shopfronts, or street events championed by Scottish artists like Craig Coulthard, now creating a forest football pitch as an artwork for the Olympics, could be killed off by fees and red tape.

The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act of 2010 comes into force on 1 April. It requires local authorities to impose a new licensing system on events including, in several areas, free and temporary exhibitions.

Kirsten Lloyd, a curator at Stills Gallery in Edinburgh, said the new rules are a “serious threat” to cultural life in the capital, adding “a whole new layer of bureaucracy that will cripple grass-roots organisations”.

She said the changes “will impose new fees and place an unworkable administrative burden” on non-profit art centres, cultural events, and artists themselves.

The new law updates and extends early 1980s legislation. Glasgow City Council has pledged to find ways to work around it, after it a furious response in the city over the weekend with Alex Kapranos, singer of the band Franz Ferdinand, writing on Twitter that it could “destroy” artistic life.

Ms Lloyd is working with galleries in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee to focus on a national campaign against “poor legislation by the Scottish Government and poor interpretation of the new rules on the part of local councils”.

Alongside its major national galleries, Edinburgh’s arts scene has also relied on shows in temporary, shifting spaces – in warehouses, or people’s homes or gardens.

“Many are run by people who have no salaries and doing it for free, working in call centres to pay the rent,” said Ms Lloyd.

Mr Coulthard was a co-founder of the Embassy Gallery, an artist run operation in Edinburgh that has used several locations. He is now working on Forest Pitch, the Cultural Olympiad project, in which trees are being felled in a forest near Selkirk to create a life-sized football pitch.

Newer artist-run operators in Edinburgh such as Rhubaba and Superclub rely on temporary shows. Established galleries, including Stills, the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, and the Edinburgh Printmakers, have also used temporary shows or site-specific shows in the past.

Now they could face applying for a licence, with the minimum fee currently set at £106 for six weeks, and having to navigate fire or safety regulations.

A spokesperson from Edinburgh City Council said: “The effect of the new legislation on visual arts events in Edinburgh has already been considered in detail and is still being assessed.”