Let’s make the arts an unstoppable force to weather the storm - Alice McGrath

In recent weeks I’ve heard the term “the perfect storm” on repeat in relation to the perceived threats to Scottish arts organisations’ future existence.

It was used in the press release relating to the closure of the Centre for Moving Image, the parent company for the much-loved Edinburgh Filmhouse and the respected Edinburgh International Film Festival, which went into administration. The Chief Executive of our national arts funding body also used the term when giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament Culture Committee in relation to the threat of funding cuts.

Scotland’s National Galleries found themselves caught in the storm that they say will lead to partial closures in the coming months. Now, the Edinburgh International Book Festival plans to scale back putting 32 jobs on the line.

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The storm metaphor implies that the forces at play are a surprise, that they have suddenly appeared, without warning, and we’ve had no time to prepare for them. Time will tell how the coastguard – the Scottish Government – will respond amid calls for emergency funding packages opposition MSPs say is essential to save the sector.

Edinburgh Film House announced it was going into administration in October this year

Contributing to the storm are standstill funding for the arts, recovery from Covid and rising costs relating largely to the energy crisis. It’s both curious and worrying that the climate crisis, which is in fact creating more and more real, devastating storms across the planet, is not mentioned as a contributing factor in the reasoning from leaders about this crisis in the cultural sector. The weather warning has been useful in highlighting the crisis the sector faces.

Creative Scotland has made the distress call and let it be clearly known that the community is in trouble. The chances of more funds may be slim as we’ve also been hearing repeated warnings from the government on much bigger financial woes. But what if the creative community, a sector familiar with responding to complexity and working with uncertainty, were supported to embrace the storm as a powerful force for change?

It reminds me of the unstoppable force paradox: What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Both are assumed to be indestructible and change therefore impossible. But the cultural sector could harness its power to move and embrace the perfect storm making it the focus of creative endeavours focussing on innovative ways to respond.

If the creative community and Scottish Government collaborated together to find a range of cross departmental solutions to the multiple challenges, we might find that more funds are not the solution. What if our arts venues were to access the supply of electricity for the Scottish public sector? Financial capital may not be the driver if instead we placed more focus and credence in our social, natural and cultural capitals. Who knows, the arts could become the unstoppable force.

Alice McGrath, Lecturer in Arts Management and Cultural Policy, Queen Margaret University

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