Writer and broadcaster Damian Barr speaks out on protecting Scotland bookshops, libraries and arts funding
Leading Scottish writer and broadcaster Damian Barr has called for independent bookshops and libraries to get special protection.
The Lanarkshire-born writer raised concerns over cuts to arts funding and facilities, and the impact those decisions may have on future generations.
Speaking at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Barr said he was baffled at the treatment of the arts sector and suggested there had been mixed messages from the Scottish Government over its support for the arts. However, he said it was essential for the country to ensure that new cultural voices were nurtured and encouraged in future.
Barr, presenter of the BBC's Big Scottish Book Club programme, was speaking during an interview with crime writer Sir Ian Rankin. The broadcaster, who was appointed a fellow of the RSE last year, spoke of the influence and importance of his local library, in Newarthill, Lanarkshire, on his writing career.
It was one of dozens of culture and leisure facilities recently threatened with closure before council chiefs climbed down last month in the face of a furious public backlash.
Barr said: “It’s not a fair fight for independent bookshops at the moment. What can be done at a government level to support them? They are anchors for high streets and local communities.
“I was horrified recently when North Lanarkshire Council announced that they were going to close the library where I spent so much time when I was younger.
“I was like ‘no, you’re not. That’s not happening, it can’t happen’. That library is one of the few places that can go in the village that is free, heated, safe and quiet. The notion that they are dusty reserves of the middle class is a fiction. They do need to be protected and funded.”
The Scottish Government has come under fire from culture sector leaders for imposing a 10 per cent funding cut on its own arts agency in December last year, reinstating £6.6 million in funding in the spring, then reviving the cut in the autumn.
Weeks later First Minister Humza Yousaf announced a new commitment to “more than double” arts spending in Scotland. However, details have yet to emerge over how and when extra funding will be distributed.
Barr said: “There is more support for the arts in Scotland than there is in England, but is there enough support? No, there’s not. My head’s birling right now trying to work out what’s happening with that £6.6m, which was reversed, then brought back. It’s like the can-can of cuts.
“I think much more can be done in Scotland. The writer Heather Parry shared something the other day about how the city of Berlin spends many times more on culture than the whole country of Scotland.
“That can’t be right. It’s now right for the economy, it’s not right for our civil life. More has to be done and there has to be certainty for arts organisations, so that they can invest in people and their work.
“We can’t just keep hearing from people like us. We need to hear from new people. That has to be a big reflection of what Scotland is.”
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