Wasps chair calls for the government to champion “a prioritised action plan for cultural strengthening.”

The Scottish government’s Culture Strategy for Scotland promises to “harness the transformational power of culture to deliver on climate change’’ and says culture needs to be the golden thread that runs through all policy areas including climate, inequality and innovation. But arts and creativity are more than a thread. They address fundamental societal challenges — our mental and physical health crisis, our economic doldrums and climate change. And they energise and strengthen our 21st-century communities.

The arts are not a “nice to have”. As Melvyn Bragg said in the Lords last month: “The arts are not the cherry on the cake … they are the cake.” The arts are as diverse as we are and touch everything, as shaped by musicians, wordsmiths, painters, makers and thinkers. Art and culture contribute £126 billion to UK the economy, employ 2.4 million and boost wellbeing, reducing the burden on health and social care.

Yet the perfect storm of defunding and the cost of living crisis threatens the livelihood of artists and makers. The Scottish government says £100 million more is being invested in the arts over ten years, but the reality is that artists are struggling to survive in the face of diminishing sales and rising studio costs. Creative Scotland has warned one in three organisations is “at risk of insolvency in the short term”.

Cultural venues are the touchstone of sustainable, resilient places. We bring at-risk buildings in the heart of our communities back to life — most recently with partners at Granton Station in Edinburgh and phase two of The Briggait in Glasgow. Elsewhere we are grappling with spiralling utility and maintenance bills and the impacts on our tenants. Others have closed studios, mothballed galleries, curtailed exhibitions or, worse, closed with the loss of jobs. We can play an active part in the drive to net zero. A first step would be to get access to agile funding to improve the energy efficiency of studios, galleries, theatres and cultural spaces. We can start by targeting “quick win” retrofit.

The government needs to champion the virtuous cultural/climate/economic circle and make it the USP of an enlightened Scotland, with a prioritised action plan for cultural strengthening. A plan that all politicians understand is as important as funding housing, health and education, as investing in culture today saves on long-term and collateral societal costs, and builds our nation’s cultural “capital”. Bragg said the arts is the cake. We would all benefit from a larger slice.

Karen Anderson is chairwoman of the arts charity Wasps Studios.

First published in The Times, Tuesday 12 March 2024

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