|Scotland & UK: Time for a discussion small and large arts identity?|
Online Image, AllThatsLeft.com 16 September 2014
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Yes, yes, the phrase “Get off Scot free” has nothing to do with Scotland or its residents. Yet who could resist the perfect word play? Regardless of the outcome to the (still currently) northern UK nation's vote for or against independence from the whole of Great Britain (formally referred to as the “Scottish independence referendum,”) slated to take place this Thursday, 18 September, the notion of Scot free will be applicable no matter what. The only point of contingency is going to be exactly what kind of Scot free with which Britain ends up after everything is said and done.
There has already been an avalanche-sized slew of news coverage, debate points and ominous rants of disbelief on both sides of this decision but rather than focus in on just the state of Scotland v. the UK specifically, there's something to be said for prudent consideration of the consequences attached to any new geo-political establishment, as far as the arts for the nation of the moment are concerned.
ArtsJournal.com highlighted two separate articles (here and here) in their mailer for yesterday, 16 September, and both raise thoughts on the potential future of Scotland's artistic content, as well as its financial stability moving forward, should the country separate from the UK. This seed of contemplation put forth by The Stage, is of particular intrigue:
“But in Scotland as much as anywhere else, culture is being identified as a useful economic driver and there’s a new enthusiasm for Gaelic and traditional practices that help to make a graphic of Scots’ cultural identity as not only the kind of thing tourists come to see but that the indigenous can feel is essentially them. (I’ll leave aside that the sporran-swinging, battered-Mars-bar scoffing, Irn-bru slugging profile has largely been a 20th century English invention.)
But that’s no more than branding. Cultural Trends finds Scots who consider themselves to be artists living in the land of their birth, are increasingly uneasy about the instrumentalism of all this [potential for independence and] how the arts are fine as long as they earn, and as long as it’s seen as definitively Scottish.”
Now, other (very important) aspects of the independence debate notwithstanding, what's Britain and Scotland to do with a conundrum like this? There's certainly nothing so odd about the idea that the distinct nations, or even simply distinct regions, of a place like the UK, (e.g. Wales) concentrate on and work to nurture art that holds a spotlight over any respective cultures or traditions of a more localized scope. Still, at least for the arts element in play, these two entities seem to be caught between a rather unpleasant rock and a hard place.
If Scotland feels the very character of its national identity is an asset, not only for basic geo-branding but also for a freshening transformation to their local artistic existence and the artists within it, how can they negotiate that desire with the second desire of the overall UK arts sector, for the creation and sensory consumption of more internationally connective and flexible material?
On the one hand, the idea that the UK's pooled arts funding will pull away if Scotland does gain independence, because it already has other arts organizations and performance entities under a good amount of duress, means a blow to Scotland's current arts funding expectations, amidst all of the other national restructuring that's bound to occur following a “Yes” vote on Thursday. Conversely, staying put could mean, while not necessarily a complete inability, at least somewhat of a larger challenge, in Scotland's objective for more “definitively Scottish” projects and artistic initiatives.
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This brings the general question to the table of how to balance something like local and national programming. It's one thing to have a season or a temporary block of time devoted to emphasizing a specific style of art, genre of music, individual composer, etc. but with a longer term and more nebulously open ended vision of narrowed creativity, is that a wise decision for retaining and or drawing in the actual artists themselves?
The thing is, it is not as though smaller nations, states or even cities with reputable and acclaimed arts scenes don't exist and attract patrons with passion for whatever work they are going to see. However, with Scotland not being a new nation born from the pages of a yet-unwritten European history book, (because it is 2014 and not sometime in the ninth century or earlier,) the transition from “culturally distinguishable populous within a larger, artistically rich body” to simply, “cultural individual minus the established blend of equally mature western European heritages,” would not be likely to go over as fluidly as say, taking a quick extra spin in a revolving door.
In theory, if the content and the drive to make future content are both there, an independent Scottish arts identity would dig its heels in, gain some traction and thrive. The reality of such musings though, as opposed to their mentally abstract counterparts, often leaves more loose ends than initially anticipated and thus usually translates more toward a “perfect on paper pipe dream.” than a plan poised for perfect execution.
It will all depend on the referendum's vote tomorrow...
Keep up with referendum news live, through BBC News, here.
Is Scotland setting itself up for a dilemma from a severe desire for cultural distinction?