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An essential ingredient for good life

Bridget McConnell, Glasgow's cultural director, urges wider recognition for the value the arts give, reports Judy Mackie

A personal insight into the role that the arts play in our everyday lives was revealed by Bridget McConnell, Glasgow City Council's director of cultural and leisure services, at a Voluntary Arts Scotland seminar aimed at exploring the relationship between local government and the voluntary arts sector.

Mrs McConnell, who is known for her strong commitment to community arts, told delegates in Aberdeen earlier this month how, during four months of a recent depressive illness brought on by overwork, she found comfort in music and books, as well as in spending time with her family, gardening and playing golf.

"These activities brought the joy back into my life and reminded me for the first time in a long time I that when we pare down to the essentials in life, the things that are often categorised as trivial or frivolous - the arts, nature and sport - are actually the things that are intrinsic to our humanity and are essential in everyday life."

She added that enjoyment of the arts is a basic human right, cited in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

"We're all familiar with the concepts of education for all and jobs for all. Why, then, should it be seen as impractical or romantic that our next major enterprise should be arts for all?" Mrs McConnell, who is married to Education Minister Jack McConnell, called for the Government to blaze a trail for the arts and promote recognition of the fundamental role culture plays in raising self-esteem, strengthening and redefining the community's identity, fuelling the entrepreneurial spirit and promoting formal and ethical prosperity.

The seminar, attended by representatives from local authority arts divisions and voluntary arts groups, also dispelled the myth that the only concern of the voluntary arts sector was securing local government funding.

Fiona Campbll, the Voluntary Arts Scotland network officer, said: "Our discussion sessions on what local authorities can do for the voluntary arts and what the voluntary arts can do for local authorities threw up a number of practical suggestions, most of which boiled down to concepts of communication and recognition.

"It appears that local authorities believe arts groups need to be more proactive in approaching them with their ideas and services, and the arts groups would like local authorities to recognise the tremendous amount of work they are doing out there for the benefit of the community."

Advice for Voluntary Arts Groups

* Raise awareness of your organisation: maintain a high profile and remember to credit your local authority when support is given

* Keep everyone involved informed about progress and outcomes, including local elected members and the media. Explain clearly how your arts projectorganisation is benefiting the community

* Get involved with your local authority: get to know the arts officer. Ensure the voluntary arts sector has input into the authority's arts plan and is involved in arts forums

* Look at creating links with schools and community education groups

* Evaluate and monitor your projects' progress and outcomes: provide your local authority arts contact and the Scottish Arts Council with qualitative and quantitative information about your projects

Advice for local authorities

* Recognise not only the cultural importance of the arts, but also their considerable social and economic value to communities

* Maintain a high profile for arts within your own organisation and the local community

* Be open to approaches by voluntary arts organisations

* Show willingness to listen and to recognise achievements and ideas

* Take these into consideration when developing local arts plans

* Think about differentiating between commercial and community rates when leasing venues

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