Scottish art: MSPs shouldn’t brag about Big Noise funding

How classy. It’s a happy ending for both Big Noise projects at Torry and Douglas, but what excruciating stress it must have been for the children, staff and parents involved, who thought a vital resource for both communities faced a battle over the future stands.

We are only two months behind the year 2023 and art is already having to reassert itself to purpose and impact. Late last month the Scottish Government reversed plans to cut nearly £7million from Creative Scotland’s budget. Union leaders had said the deficit would put 8,500 arts jobs at risk; the wider ripple effect of such losses would be immeasurable.

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At one point during the campaign to prevent government budget cuts, Creative Scotland’s chief executive said the organization may need to halve the number of groups and businesses it supports – an unthinkable act.

While the Scottish Government was persuaded to protect Creative Scotland funding, two Scottish local authorities were tougher. Not only did they cut arts funding, they also cut lifetime financial support for projects that work with children from some of Scotland’s most disadvantaged postcodes. Clearly.

Dundee’s majority SNP Council voted to end support for Big Noise Douglas as Douglas is one of the city’s most deprived neighborhoods and is where Big Noise works with around 500 children. Sistema Scotland chief executive Nicola Killean said the decision was a “devastating” and “brazen” broken promise by the council, which has agreed to make funds available from 2021/22.

The removal of £900,000 over three years by Dundee City Council meant the program in Douglas had to be scaled back drastically.

Ms Killean was similarly scathing on Aberdeen City Council when his SNP/Liberal Democrat government voted to end funding for Big Noise in Torry, which involves 750 children and young people each week. “Myopic” and “shocking” were the words of choice for a CEO clearly annoyed at having to come up with more fresh outraged adjectives.

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Two local councillors, Lee Fairfull and Christian Allard, went so far as to say that Big Noise Torry had failed to deliver and had “no impact” on its stated goal of narrowing the performance gap. The brassneck of an SNP council member complaining about an organization has failed to close the performance gap, has it?

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn wrote to the council to ask for clemency on the cuts and was accused of “crocodile tears” by opposition councilors for his efforts. It’s hard to argue: MPs and MSPs are only reactive when it comes to scoring points or landing blows, rather than proactively protecting valuable resources.

Nicola Sturgeon, who tweeted her delight at the Scottish Government’s £1.5million bailout deal for Big Noise, knows well the importance of the scheme. Big Noise Govanhill works in her constituency and has seen the many benefits of the program firsthand.

HeraldScotland: Given the presence of the project in your Govanhill constituency, Nicola Sturgeon should know very well the benefits of the Big Noise program firsthandGiven the presence of the project in her Govanhill constituency, Nicola Sturgeon should know very well the benefits of the Big Noise program firsthand (Image: Newsquest)

But the funding is an empty boast from the Scottish Government. Year after year Council budgets have been squeezed; Year after year, campaign promises to eliminate the unfair bungling of the municipal tax system have failed.

Councils must cut their cloth accordingly. But art has become too soft a target. It’s not just Sistema Scotland. The continuation of free musical instrument lessons and free music in schools has been a struggle for funding in recent years, with Midlothian Council most recently proposing to cut funding for music education.

Sistema isn’t just about learning a musical instrument, it’s about striving, teamwork, opening up opportunities, skills in math and language, and so on. Some of the young Govanhill players are currently in India, a definitely enriching and potentially life changing journey that they otherwise would not have access to.

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We know all this, and politicians choose to ignore it.

Announcing the turn in funding for Creative Scotland, John Swinney said it comes “at a time when the country needs the inspiration that the culture and arts sector can offer to all of us”. That’s certainly scathing with faint praise – the arts offer far more than inspiration. Putting aside the impact of these threatened cuts on young people, artists are already vulnerable enough without a perceived lack of political support and understanding hanging over them.

Mr. Swinney and his colleagues know that creative industries and cultural heritage define who and what we are as a nation. We underestimate this at our collective peril. Scottish art: MSPs shouldn’t brag about Big Noise funding

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