Jemma Neville explains why the results of the UK general election could have a major impact on voluntary and community arts in Scotland
When Theresa May paid her much publicised visit to Crathes Village Hall on 29 April, she got her timing all wrong. Had the Prime Minister been there on Wednesday morning, she could have taken part in the local craft group, ‘Crafty Critterz’, on Tuesday she could have joined the Morris Dancers or she might even have enjoyed the Martial Arts Group on Monday night.
Voluntary arts groups are good with time-keeping because most village halls are hired by the hour and groups are reliant on self-funding or very modest local authority arts support..
Village halls, community centres, town halls, back rooms of pubs, libraries and other municipal spaces are the cornerstone of local life. These are places where creative expression flourishes, but only if the infrastructure provides for it.
It matters that we vote for candidates who will assure, not just assume, that Scotland continues to be a nation of many culturesJemma Neville
Day to day community services and facilities, such as affordable venues, accessible transport, broadband and local networks facilitate artistic collaborations and allow groups to share overhead costs. Most of these policy areas are within the devolved competency of the Scottish Parliament and local government. So, why does the snap general election for seats at Westminster matter?
It matters that we vote for candidates who will assure, not just assume, that Scotland continues to be a nation of many cultures. We need to promote and protect international partnerships with people and places from across the European Union in post-Brexit agreements. From touring amateur orchestras to visual art exhibitions, the sector benefits both from visa-free exchange and knowledge transfer throughout the EU, and from EU nationals making Scotland their creative home.
The village halls, leisure centres, development trusts, nature walks and public art commissions that have benefited from EU funds are numerous, particularly in rural and remote communities. It’s also worth considering the impact of the EU on higher education, which is closely entwined with the culture sector. Universities and further education colleges not only provide training and employment in creative occupations, they also directly support and fund cultural venues and facilities. Any funding cuts to higher education or a contraction of activities has the potential to impact cultural provision in Scotland.
Scotland’s culture is essential in putting the nation on the map for visitors and investors from across the EU and beyond. Our cultural landscape, including our many community festivals, encourages performers, producers and tourists to visit Scotland and the work and talent we export helps shape a positive image of Scotland internationally.
Crathes Village Hall is just one of thousands of venues offering local people a chance to create and connect. Here at Voluntary Arts Scotland, we see evidence of this everyday - the winners of the 2016 Voluntary Arts Epic Awards rehearsed their inspirational Christmas show about the Syrian refugee crisis, alter:nativity at Finzean Hall in Banchory. And in May each year, the Voluntary Arts Festival sees spaces across Scotland and the UK open their doors to showcase activities and encourage newcomers to join in.
The opportunities for connection that arts groups provide in their communities is essential, yet their asks are few: a decent building, access to modest funds, a transport system that gets them from a to b. In return, they give people a reason to leave the house, offer a respite from increasingly stressful lives and may even divert demand from increasingly stretched public services.
So whatever your politics, be sure to vote! And while you’re in line waiting for the ballot box, take a look at the community notice boards on the walls of the school, town hall, or library hosting the polling station and you might find a timetable of the regular, creative meet-ups offering reasons to return.
Jemma Neville is Director of Voluntary Arts Scotland