Shout more loudly about arts and culture

20th November 2009 at 00:00
America's First Lady is a firm believer in the arts being part of national life

The head of Scotland's national galleries has called for the commitment to arts education demonstrated by heads of state in America to be replicated in Scotland.

Scotland needed national leadership like that shown by America's First Lady, Michelle Obama, said John Leighton, director of the National Galleries of Scotland. And he warned that arts education was hindered in Scotland by the fragmentation inherent in a system governed by 32 councils.

Mrs Obama invited the spouses of the G20 leaders to the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School in September, where she told students: "I wanted to come here because I wanted to showcase the value of arts education - and you put that on display .

"I wanted to come here because this school embodies the belief that President Obama and I share, and that is: the arts aren't just a nice thing to do if you have a little time, right? It's not just a hobby, although it can be a very good hobby. It shouldn't be something you do just because you can afford it.

"We believe strongly that the arts aren't somehow an `extra' part of our national life, but instead we feel that the arts are at the heart of our national life."

In contrast, provision of arts programmes in Scotland was fragmented, continued Mr Leighton, due to "the empowerment of local authorities and more trust being put back into schools".

"We sit in our office and scratch our heads, wondering how we are going to work with 32 local authorities," he admitted. "Inevitably, these processes lead to programmes that are not as strategic as they should be." He had "some hope" that Creative Scotland might bring a more "national look" to provision. Currently, arts programmes tended to be introduced where there were "personal contacts".

Mr Leighton was speaking at the recent Children in Scotland annual conference where he also called on those directly associated with arts and culture to shout more loudly about what they were doing.

"There is not an area of life that cannot be improved by exposure to the arts and culture," he said.

Also on the panel discussing the role of arts in improving lives, chaired by Seona Reid, director of Glasgow School of Art, were Mary McClusky, chief executive of Scottish Youth Theatre, and Jennifer Martin, a composer and music education consultant.

The arts should have more of a role in initial teacher education, they argued. They also asked teachers who had witnessed the power of involving young people in the arts to help them persuade the policy makers of their worth.

"When we say these things, there is an element of `well you would say that, wouldn't you'," said Ms Martin.

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