Creativity for everyone - supporting cultural access and engagement

Philip Deverell, our Director of Strategy, argues that everyone is entitled to a creative life, regardless of ability, age, ethnicity, gender, location or economic circumstance.

Further to recent media interest in Creative Scotland’s approach to supporting cultural access and engagement amongst people from Scotland’s more deprived communities – stimulated by Darren McGarvey’s comments in The Herald - I wanted to put forward our perspective on this important issue.

Firstly, Darren is absolutely right. We recognise that cultural access and participation amongst many of Scotland’s communities is a significant issue.

Two major pieces of work that we have undertaken recently underline this fact - our Screen Equalities Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Review, and our survey of Diversity in the Arts, both published earlier this year. Both of these research studies clearly set out the challenges and barriers faced by people on lower incomes in both accessing Scotland’s arts and culture as well as working sustainably in our creative sectors.

From the Screen EDI survey: “In Scotland, 15% of people live in relative poverty and across our research, economic limitations were cited as the most significant barrier.”

From Understanding Diversity in the Arts: “Economic limitations were the most commonly cited barrier (76%) to participation and career progression.”

This research underlines what we are already keenly aware of. There are many barriers that prevent people from a diverse range of social backgrounds in Scotland, as well as those in challenging economic or social circumstances, from engaging with or working within the arts and creative industries in Scotland. This includes access to training, support, advice and funding.

If we believe that an inclusive cultural sector is really important, we need to see and do things differently.- Philip Deverell, Director of Strategy

The value of these surveys is that they help us – and the culture sector more broadly –  evidence the scale of the challenge and to target subsequent action in order to create a place of equal creative opportunity for all. It’s also worth recognising that this is not just an urban challenge, but a challenge across all parts of Scotland. Some of our country’s most socially isolated and economically challenged communities are to be found in rural or semi-rural locations.

The Diversity in the Arts survey highlighted the high levels of education in the arts, with 75% of respondents educated to degree level or above. But that in itself is a barrier to many. Everyone has the capacity to be creative but not everyone has the opportunity to go to University or develop their creativity through further or higher education courses. This lack of opportunity can be coupled with a tendency in the arts and cultural sectors to value one set of cultural experience over another. If we believe that an inclusive cultural sector is really important, which Creative Scotland does, and we want a cultural scene made up of all types of creative activity, we need to see and do things differently.

So, what is being done about it?

Through our funding, we have increased our focus on improving access and engagement in the arts and creative industries  - specifically amongst economically disadvantaged communities -  including initiatives such as the Youth Music Initiative, CashBack for Creativity, Time to Shine (Scotland’s Youth Arts Strategy) and Awards for All.

An important action we have taken in recent years is to require all organisations that we support through Regular Funding to have EDI action plans in place and to monitor and report against them. This means that Scotland’s key cultural organisations must have equalities, diversity and inclusion as a key part of the work that they do and that, as a sector, the challenge of addressing these issues has become a higher priority.

Many organisations supported through Regular Funding are doing some great work in terms of social inclusion such as The Stove in Dumfries, Glasgow Women’s Library, Feisean nan Gaidheal and Feis Rois across the Highlands, Regional Screen Scotland, The Scottish Book Trust, Platform in Easterhouse, Aberdeen Performing Arts and a host of others.

And this work, alongside the work of many other people and organisations, is steadily making a difference. The most recent Scottish Household Survey, published just last month, showed that the gap in cultural participation between the most and least deprived areas in Scotland is closing, and closing at a faster rate than in other parts of the UK.

However, we recognise that there is a long way to go, that the challenge of breaking down the barriers to access and participation in arts and culture is a significant one. A key point that I must make is that this is not a challenge just for Creative Scotland. We are only a part of the culture sector in Scotland and we cannot sustainably improve social inclusion in the culture sector on our own. To do this requires action – not just from ourselves, but from a range of people and organisations including Scottish Government, Local Authorities, other cultural funders, other policy areas (e.g. Education, Health, Justice) and, critically, the people and organisations who currently occupy Scotland’s cultural sector.

Everyone is entitled to a creative life, regardless of ability, age, ethnicity, gender, location or economic circumstance, whether that be enjoying arts and culture, in any of its multiple forms, or whether that be working in the cultural sector, developing a career and making a living from creativity.

That is our belief, and we will continue to be open to, and work with, all communities to help make that happen.

Philip Deverell
Director of Strategy, Creative Scotland

This article was published on 17 Oct 2017