“The arts are not takers of money, they are givers of dreams.” – Jenny Lee, Labour Minsister of the Arts, 1964
August in Edinburgh, that time of year when the streets echo to the sound of comedy, drama and music. That time of year when hotel rooms are hard to come by and that time of year when you could be walking down the street and bump into a Star Wars Stormtrooper or a character from the world of literature.
I’ve only had time to see one show this year and it was excellent.
The show is called Black is the Colour of My Voice, a one-woman show performed by the talented Apphia Campbell.
Based on the songs of Nina Simone, the show explores the relationship between a daughter and her father and other issues such as sin, death and racism.
The section on the American Civil Rights movement is especially powerful and illustrates to me how drama and music can bring to life a time and place from years gone by and make it alive and real.
At a time when many people are struggling through cuts to benefits or are in work but are having to survive on pay-day loans, discussing art, culture and music may not seem that important or perhaps even frivolous.
However, I believe that to ignore this issue is to overlook something that can have a positive impact on our quality of life and something which can help to achieve positive outcomes on social inclusion and health and should not be forgotten.
Over the years the Labour Party has sought to develop and implement policies that support the arts.
In the 1960’s Labour through Jenny Lee’s White Paper, A Policy for the Arts set out an exciting agenda for stimulating arts and culture. This was to be achieved through a sustained growth in investment and investing in capital funding. This would help ensure that there would be buildings and venues throughout the UK that would make art and culture more accessible.
Harold Wilson’s government of the 1960’s would also see the creation of the Open University which Jenny Lee was instrumental in driving forward and which has continued to play an important role in enriching the lives of many people throughout the UK.
If we look at more recent times in the 2011 Scottish Labour manifesto we see a commitment to:-
- A joined-up music policy, to put music at the centre of the school curriculum;
- Protecting free admission to galleries and museums – I can well remember when the Tories introduced admission charges;
- Modernising library services.
The policy think-tank Class (Centre for Labour and Social Studies) published a policy paper in November 2014 called Raising our quality of life: The importance of investment in arts and culture, setting out four aims as to how future arts and cultural policy can raise the quality of life:-
- Respond to local contexts – Funding must be equitably distributed and not disadvantage by geography or demography;
- Ensure access to arts and culture is democratised and publicly planned – there should be policies that remove barriers to participation and proactively target excluded groups;
- Provide resources for everyday participation within communities as well as institutional settings – policy should not just focus on creating access to arts establishments and institutions, but also provide resources for communities;
- Develop methods of connecting and streamlining funding interests – and ensure a strong and secure role for the public sector in arts investment.
This paper does not under-estimate that in these austere times these aims are ones that are hard to achieve however, it does emphasise that this vision is one that should be kept in mind if we want to ensure access for all to participate in arts and culture.
The forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections in May 2016 are going to be about many different issues, but as we formulate our policies, I think that Scottish Labour should seek to reflect the four aims that Class have set out.
I believe that is an issue worth discussing even when times are hard and arguably in times such as these there’s no more important time to do that.
So, I might think one of the greatest pieces of music was made by three guys from Woking singing about ‘wishing you weren’t so far away’ or’ a hot summers day’ for you it might be a great piece of literature, drama or a painting.
Whatever it is you’ll know the difference that it makes to you and I hope you’ll agree that this is an issue that we need to continue to debate and discuss.