Covid pandemic: Here's what the Scottish government is doing to save our cultural sector – Fiona Hyslop

Scotland’s Culture Strategy set out our ambition to ensure everyone has the opportunity to experience the transformative potential of culture.

Work on Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor centre in Galashiels has resumed after a delay due to the pandemic (Picture: Great Tapestry of Scotland Centre)
Work on Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor centre in Galashiels has resumed after a delay due to the pandemic (Picture: Great Tapestry of Scotland Centre)

Since it was published in February, the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on all our lives and presented our culture and heritage sectors with unprecedented challenges.

However, the intrinsic value of culture and the power it has to inspire, enrich and transform people’s lives remains. In fact, I believe the ambitions and aims at the heart of the strategy are even more relevant now as it is those principles that will guide how we continue to support the recovery and renewal of the sector, and indeed how culture supports us as a society through recovery.

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In Scotland, we have taken fast action to support our cultural sectors, working closely with partners and organisations to determine where help is needed most and how to deliver it swiftly.

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As a very early response, and with Scottish government financial support, Creative Scotland’s Bridging Bursaries were opened to creative freelancers from March this year. Within three months, more than 2,290 awards totalling £4.3 million were made to people across every local authority area in Scotland.

Helping to save jobs

This was direct financial support reaching the people who needed it fast and was the beginning of increased engagement between Scotland’s arts funding body and the freelance community.

We know that freelancers and self-employed people in the creative industries are being especially badly hit. The closure of live events in particular has reminded us that the arts and the creative industries rely not just on professional artists, but on a long supply chain of professionals.

It is for that reason, and in response to demand, that last week I announced that the Creative Freelancer Hardship funds will be increased from £5 million to £8 million. This will help ensure money reaches those who need it.

We have also announced the first recipients of the £15 million Culture Organisations and Venues Recovery Fund. This will support a wide range of organisations, from comedy clubs and theatres to galleries and production companies, and has been designed specifically to help these organisations cope with the immediate issues they are facing and to help save jobs.

This has also been a difficult time for our flagship cultural venues which are key to many of our local economies. Emergency funding – such as the recently announced support for V&A Dundee, the Burrell Renaissance Project in Glasgow and Capital Theatres in Edinburgh – is part of our ongoing work to protect and support these world-renowned Scottish institutions.

Venues closed, events cancelled

In total, since the start of the pandemic, more than £100 million of Scottish government emergency funding has been allocated to culture and heritage. However, I am acutely aware that the major issues presented by the pandemic will be with us for some time to come and further support will be needed.

As well as sustaining what we already have, it is important at this time that we continue to inspire and encourage people to get involved in culture, try something new or develop the skills they have.

We know that there is a strong appetite for returning to participation in creative activity. But this can be difficult when many venues are temporarily closed, events are cancelled and our social interactions restricted.

That is why new initiatives like the Culture Collective, funded by Scottish government and managed by Creative Scotland, are so important.

The programme will provide an opportunity for organisations to explore and test new models and to learn from each other, whether this is how to provide opportunities and support to creative practitioners or how to actively engage communities.

With grants of up to between £100,000 and £300,000 available to organisations, the Culture Collective programme will focus on community-engaged creative activity, supporting participatory approaches and projects where creative practitioners and communities work together.

Green shoots of recovery

A key element of this will be proactively responding to the impact of Covid-19, providing employment opportunities and engaging people in shaping the future cultural life of their community.

The long nights may be drawing in, but last week we also saw welcome green shoots of recovery reminding us that we will get through this crisis.

Amazon Prime has announced that its six-part series The Rig will be filmed exclusively in Scotland and will available to enjoy in more than 240 countries and territories around the world.

The thriller will be shot at Scotland’s newest film studio – First Stage Studios Ltd in Edinburgh’s Port of Leith – which has benefited from £1 million of investment from Screen Scotland, with filming due to start next year.

Projects of this magnitude generate significant revenue for Scotland’s wider economy and support careers across the film and TV industry from writers, producers and directors to those working in craft and technical areas.

I am also pleased to confirm that building work on Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor centre in Galashiels has resumed after a short delay due to the pandemic, another fantastic project with huge economic potential for the town and surrounding area.

The design for the building draws inspiration from the mixture of rooftops across Galashiels’ skyline and I know that many of us will be increasingly intrigued to hear more about the progress that is being made.

I am also looking forward to contributing to the first temporary exhibition that will be on display when the centre opens. Titled ‘Iconic Scots’, the exhibition will celebrate inspirational people, crossing different generations and interests, showcasing the very best of Scotland.

The challenges of Covid-19 are clearly still with us and life is hard for so many artists and no doubt there will be more difficulties ahead.

But I would like to take this opportunity to assure those within the sector, and everyone whose life is enriched by it, that we are determined to do everything we can to see culture in Scotland not only survive this crisis but to thrive in future.

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