National cultures need nurturing

20th June 2008 at 01:00
Sheena Wellington, one of Scotland's leading traditional artists, has expressed "shock" at cuts to the funding of a raft of organisations promoting Scottish culture
Sheena Wellington, one of Scotland's leading traditional artists, has expressed "shock" at cuts to the funding of a raft of organisations promoting Scottish culture.

The Scots ballad singer, who sang A Man's A Man For 'a That at the opening ceremony of the Scottish Parliament, has joined a number of critics of the recent decision by the Scottish Arts Council to withdraw money from what is described as the "non-Gaelic side of Scottish culture".

Ms Wellington, who works regularly in schools, promoting traditional music, hit out at the SAC for refusing flexible funding packages for 2009-10 to organisations including the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland, the Scottish Traditions of Dance Trust, Edinburgh's Scots Music Group, the Scots Language Resource Centre and Scottish Language Dictionaries. These were the bodies that "keep the traditions of Scotland alive", she said.

They were the foundations upon which the traditional arts in the country were built and provided vital early exposure to Scots language, music and dance for children: "If we knock them out, we're in trouble."

The Scots Language Resource Centre, said Ms Wellington, provides advice and resources for teachers; the Scottish Traditions of Dance Trust has been responsible for getting dance artists into schools; and the Traditional Music and Song Association supports young artists, running the tour which follows the BBC's young traditional musician of the year award, which includes school visits.

"All these organisations are terrific resources and all of them were working with schools and young people," she continued.

The SAC defended its decision. It received 106 eligible grant applications totalling pound;14,677,011, but had a budget of just pound;6,980,000. "In this context, the 43 applications were not recommended for support," said a spokesperson.

Culture Minister Linda Fabiana has received complaints about the treatment of the "non-Gaelic side of Scottish culture" from a number of quarters.

LibDem MSP Hugh O'Donnell has demanded to know how the Government is going to protect these "vital elements". The SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Rob Gibson, has called for "help from local authorities and alternative cash streams", and Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm has asked for "even one way in which children's access to music provision has improved in the past year?"

Mr Chisholm bemoaned the fact that cultural co-ordinators "vital to widening access" are being "run down and will be axed", and that Edinburgh City Council is not funding the education programmes offered by Scottish Ballet and Scottish Opera.

Labour MSP Cathy Peattie has put down a members' motion in the Scottish Parliament in support of the Scots Music Group, which stands to lose a third of its budget.

Its chairman, Alastair Cameron, said the SAC decision had left them "dumfoonert". He said: "We need some means for this nation to nurture its own cultures - Gaelic, Lowland, Doric and others. For if Scotland will not commit to this, who in the world will?"

The Traditional Music and Song Association relies upon SAC to provide its core funding of around pound;32,000 a year. National director Kay Thomson said: "If Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet disappeared from Scotland, we would still have opera and ballet because of touring companies. However, if Scotland's traditions and language are not funded, nobody else in the world is going to start doing our culture for us."

Linda Fabiani said she understood some people's disappointment but, "as always", the Government was taking a "hands-off approach" to SAC.

The Government would use the audit of Scots language provision, due out in October, to "work out how we go forward", she said.

Ms Wellington said: "If these organisations fall, they will need to be rebuilt and that's a piece of nonsense because you lose the trust, experience and expertise of all the people involved."

It is vital that youngsters have access to Scottish music and traditions, she believes, so it becomes "built into them" and then "it's theirs to make new things with".

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