It would have been a sad irony if the Scottish Youth Theatre had ceased to exist in 2018, given it has been dubbed the “Year of Young People” by the Scottish Government.
The personal intervention of Nicola Sturgeon and a £150,000 emergency grant, matched by funds from the private sector, appears to have saved the 41-year-old company from going bust after Creative Scotland rejected a bid for financial support.
Karen Gillan, Gerard Butler and Kate Dickie are among the actors to have benefitted from the SYT but it is about more than producing a handful of well-known names.
At a time of growing concern that only wealthy people can afford to pursue a career in the arts, the Glasgow-based theatre provides training bursaries and some free help to nurture young talent. It can only be hoped that this remains part of its remit as it pursues a “permanent funding solution”.
For the arts is responsible for the stories we tell about ourselves, for shaping the culture in which we live, and it is important that the voices of all Scots are reflected in that process. It might seem trivial to some, but the image of Scotland is hugely important to this country’s success. Many tourists come here because of ideas they have heard about Scotland’s natural beauty, its history and its people. Scots enjoy a fairly good reputation overseas.
Artists in the US, chief among them those in Hollywood, have done much to promote the country – even when portraying gangsters, racism or poverty as in, respectively, The Godfather, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Grapes of Wrath. The Soviet Union initially allowed the latter film to be shown in 1948 because it exposed the plight of workers under US capitalism, but a few weeks later it was banned as people noticed even the poorest Americans could afford cars.
But the arts in Scotland isn’t only important as a form of soft power in the world or to attract tourists, it’s important to everyone living here.
A society that tells entertaining, interesting or shocking stories about itself and others is an undeniably better place to live in.
And, as successive generations have shown, young people often have a radically different take on life and can shake things up, often for the good of us all.
If something like the Scottish Youth Theatre is lost, it can be very hard to bring it back. So, instead, we should cherish it as a jewel in our cultural crown.