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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, December 5, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 05 December 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Art in Action Campaign, Portfolio Question Time, Disability Sport and Participation, Decision Time


Art in Action Campaign

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-19957, in the name of Claire Baker, on the Scottish Contemporary Art Network’s art in action campaign. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the Scottish Contemporary Art Network’s Art in Action campaign, which took place over the summer of 2019 and involved artists from the Mid Scotland and Fife region and across Scotland meeting with MSPs to champion the role of visual art in communities; recognises the importance and contribution of art and artists to Scotland’s society, culture and economy; notes that the SCAN Visual Arts Manifesto calls on policy makers to place culture at the heart of representative policy and decision-making and for longer-term public investment to support the creative and professional development of artists, workers and organisations, and recognises that the forthcoming Budget and the Culture Strategy offer an opportunity for debate about the nature of arts and cultural funding.


We may be a select few this lunchtime, but I am delighted to lead this debate, which recognises the Scottish Contemporary Art Network’s art in action campaign.

Some consider that a week before the general election might not be the easiest time to focus discussion on contemporary art. However, this debate comes at a fortuitous time. The Scottish Government has indicated that its culture strategy is imminent, the Scottish budget is on the horizon and internal discussion will, no doubt, be taking place on priorities. The Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee is about to publish its report on arts funding. This is a good time to raise the profile of arts and culture, and I thank all the MSPs who have signed the motion.

There are many building blocks to a better country, and one of those is culture. The Government’s national performance framework recognises culture and creativity as an outcome. A healthy cultural infrastructure has a role to play in achieving all the national performance framework outcomes. Culture and creativity are not an add-on; they are part and parcel of how we live our lives.

The Scottish Contemporary Art Network, which is known as SCAN, is a member-led network that is committed to championing, cultivating and supporting the contemporary art sector in Scotland. Its core aims are that the role, impact and benefits of contemporary visual art are properly recognised as central to our society, culture and economy, and that those who create and work in the sector are valued and supported in their ambitions.

During the summer, SCAN invited MSPs to be involved in the art in action campaign. That was a valuable opportunity for MSPs to visit a local gallery or studio and to hear directly about the concerns of artists who are trying to make a living; the connectivity of art to the local community; the value of contemporary art to the local economy; the power and potential of art to transform people’s lives and support community cohesion; and the funding pressures that individual artists and organisations face.

My visit was to the Fife village of Strathkinness, which hosts the 201 Telephone Box gallery. The gallery, which sits in a residential street, is a former red telephone box that has been converted into a contemporary art gallery in a project led by local artist and curator Lada Wilson. Members of the local community and the Strathkinness Community Trust came along on the visit. It was clear that the gallery is valued in the village and enables people to connect with contemporary village art literally on their doorstep, prompting interest, discussion and conversation. The phone box was on BT’s list for removal but, following its adoption by the trust, Lada Wilson drove the project to convert it into a gallery and now curates the programme. All exhibitions are complemented by an artist talk or presentation and sometimes a workshop.

My visit was just one of the visits that took place the length and breadth of the country, with 21 MSPs from all parties going to places where contemporary art is created to meet artists and to galleries where contemporary art is shown. Colleagues visited artists and art workers in venues as varied as Platform in Easterhouse, Cample Line in rural Thornhill, the brand-new Circus Artspace in Inverness, RIG Arts in a former tobacco factory in Greenock, the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness and Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art. I could go on and on, and I hope to hear of members’ experiences later in the debate.

Scotland boasts a contemporary art scene that is lauded around the world. The artwork that contemporary artists create, make and facilitate can feed long-term change in our communities, building empathy and resilience, creating a space in which people from all backgrounds can explore new ideas and sparking a wide range of economic activity. There are many examples of the social benefits that artists bring.

At the start of the new parliamentary year, I hosted a reception in the Parliament for MSPs, to recognise the art in action campaign and hear from artists about their experience of working in Scotland. It is difficult for contemporary artists to survive, to continue to produce work and to develop their talent, and we heard a call for politicians not only to value art but to invest more in it. Some of us heard words of wisdom from the advice bar, and we all got to hear the wonderful Karine Polwart sing.

The campaign demonstrated the impact that high-quality art has on local economies, inclusion of diverse heritages and cultures, environmental awareness, improving health outcomes and much more. Crucially, the campaign raised awareness of the inherent value of culture and creative activity to our nation’s wellbeing and the need for progressive investment to unlock that potential for generations to come.

Now that MSPs have had the positive experience of their visits and have heard about the value of contemporary art, the question is how we support and value the work that is going on in Scotland when it comes to decision making.

At the end of 2017, SCAN, along with the Scottish Artists Union and Engage Scotland, launched the visual arts manifesto. Among its asks are

“longer term public investment that supports the creative and professional development of artists, workers and organisations”.

During its recent inquiry into arts funding, the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee heard evidence about the challenges for artists and cultural freelancers in making a consistent living. Submissions to the committee covered low income, insecure work and the additional pressures on women artists who have no maternity pay. Support for a universal basic income was expressed.

The committee also heard views on the current funding arrangements and the importance of long-term models to support career progression. There was support for committing a greater proportion of spending to culture—currently just 0.2 per cent of the Scottish budget goes to its arms-length funding body. There were calls for an increase in core funding and for other budgets to invest in the arts, whether the funding comes from public spending or private investment.

Art in action campaigners ask that a percentage of every major funding initiative in relevant policy areas be invested in creating a specific role for art, to match the ambition in the draft culture strategy. That would be just one way to recognise the skills and experience of artists and the cultural workforce and to invest strategically and sustainably for a more vibrant, innovative and resilient nation.

Contemporary visual art can support our understanding of the world. It can look to address some of the big debates and conflicts of our time, and it seeks to interpret the human condition. It can make us smile and think. It can provoke a reaction. In a time of uncertainty and division, art has the ability to ask questions and bring people together. This year’s Turner prize—an award that is often seen as career defining—is being split between the four finalists, at their request, in what the artists described as a “symbolic gesture of cohesion.”

I will close with the Turner artists’ words, which encapsulate the important role that art can play in society:

“At this time of political crisis in Britain and much of the world, when there is already so much that divides and isolates people and communities, we feel strongly motivated to use the occasion of the prize to make a collective statement in the name of commonality, multiplicity and solidarity—in art as in society.”


I congratulate Claire Baker on lodging the motion and securing this important and timely members’ business debate.

Claire Baker mentioned the culture strategy, the budget and the inquiry of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, of which she and I are members. The debate is timely, notwithstanding that it is happening a week before an election.

During the summer, I, with other members, took part in a visit in my constituency to RIG Arts Ltd in Greenock. I spoke to Karen Orr—Karen and her husband, Jason, are the leading lights behind RIG Arts. RIG Arts is at the heart of culture and creativity in Inverclyde. It works out of the old tobacco warehouse in Greenock, which Claire Baker has mentioned. It has a wide and varied history. It was a tobacco warehouse, then it was a billet for Canadian soldiers during world war two, and it is now the home of RIG Arts, which is providing creative opportunities in the constituency.

RIG Arts uses that old but beautiful building in an amazing way. Some areas are used as prop stores, while another area is set out as a cinema, with one side of the internal wall being used as a space to show films. There are also areas for artists to paint and to do their creative work. Another area is set aside for music—I am led to believe that the acoustics are outstanding. This year, the final concert of the Galoshans festival, which begins Inverclyde’s winter festival programme, took place inside the tobacco warehouse. It was a genuinely wonderful occasion—the acoustics were great—that highlighted the flexibility and the opportunity that the building can offer the Inverclyde community.

SCAN’s website tells us that the Scottish Contemporary Arts Network is a member-led organisation that was set up to champion, connect and cultivate the contemporary visual art sector in Scotland. I very much welcome the art in action campaign, which saw 21 MSPs from across the parties visit artists and organisations around Scotland throughout the summer. Aspects that were touched on include regeneration of local economies, inclusion of diverse cultures, environmental awareness and improvement of health outcomes for individuals—matters in which RIG Arts genuinely excels.

In Greenock, a wide regeneration project that includes River Clyde Homes is taking place in the Broomhill area, where a new health centre is being built through NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde with support from the Scottish Government. RIG Arts was there at the outset with its cultural input. More than £50 million of investment is going into that part of town—the regeneration is welcome on its own—but the project is also about the multigenerational activity, diverse cultural elements and environmental awareness that RIG Arts is bringing to the area. That will, ultimately, have a positive impact on the health of many people who live there—notwithstanding that we will have a brand new £22 million health centre.

I will touch on another aspect in relation to the arts. Many members will be aware of George Wyllie, who stayed in Gourock. George’s work has been on show across Scotland over many years. The cabinet secretary is well aware that there will be a new cruise ship terminal in Greenock built with funding from the Glasgow city region deal project. The building will have a George Wyllie area to bring art to anyone who goes into the building and to encourage more people to go to it. Therefore, it will not be just a terminal for people coming in; there will be a tourism offer so that people will go and see it. Many members will be aware of George Wyllie’s clock with two legs outside Buchanan bus station, and of the question marks along the River Clyde, from Port Glasgow to Langbank. They are part of his offer to the art world.

I am conscious of the time, so I will close. I again congratulate Claire Baker on securing the debate, and I welcome the SCAN art in action campaign. I wish it every success.


I first thank my colleague Claire Baker for bringing the debate to the chamber. Unfortunately, I was not able to visit an art in action project during the summer, but I have made contact with SCAN and plan to make a visit in the future.

As we know, art is not only about beautiful pieces of artwork in a gallery; it has the ability to transform the way we express our emotions, communicate ideas and interact with our environment. Art in action embodies that by addressing three key areas: art being very much part of our everyday lives, art acting as a catalyst for a richer society, and art being a crucial part of decision making.

We know that art can transform the mental health and wellbeing of many of our fellow citizens. As part of art in action’s work, just up the road from my constituency, in Bonnyrigg, artists from Artlink Edinburgh and the Lothians—specifically Artlink’s Ideas Team and its sensory workshops—have created artworks that work alongside weekly sensory workshops for people who have profound and multiple learning difficulties. The artists use a range of sensory art pieces including ambient sound, vibration, projectors, lasers and mirror balls, which are used to create beautiful and stimulating environments.

As I have said before in the chamber, I believe that social prescribing could have a transformative impact on our national health service. Having seen it work for people with learning difficulties in particular, I believe that it could also be used to tackle social isolation and a range of mental health issues. Stronger recognition of that value is important and will require bold action through Government policy.

In 2017, SCAN submitted evidence to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee for its inquiry on arts funding. It urged the Government and funders to think more strategically about supporting the sector. SCAN argues that decision makers should think differently about art, and that they should support and invest in the sector, which can bring real value to Scottish society at national level and at local level. At local level, funding is sometimes very squeezed.

The Scottish household survey found that 84 per cent of Scottish people say that their local area would lose something of value if it lost its arts funding and cultural activities, so it is important for Creative Scotland to consider rural and other areas very carefully when it makes funding decisions.

Scottish Borders Housing Association invited Impact Arts to develop an art master plan for the Stonefield area of Hawick as it undergoes a period of regeneration. Impact Arts, which has a stand in the garden lobby today, is demonstrating its strong ethos of partnership working. It collaborates with a variety of partners from the third sector, local government, national Government, prisons and housing associations. It is working with partners including my local council—Scottish Borders Council—to develop a plan for regeneration of Hawick, and is conducting in-depth consultation and research. That work will culminate in the creation of an arts master plan that will cover key themes and priorities including identifying artworks, landscaping, communal space and creative play spaces.

We know that art has the ability to transform lives and to bring positive social and economic changes. Through campaigns such as SCAN’s art in action, which is helping people with learning difficulties, and through the work of Impact Arts in the Borders, which is offering a new approach to housing regeneration, art has a pivotal role to play.

I want to make the important point that we need to ensure that that great work is funded properly. The Scottish Government needs to fund our arts sector properly in order to fulfil the aims of the draft cultural strategy. A properly funded sector will be able to deliver excellent projects, while supporting fragile arts infrastructure and the livelihoods of artists at national and local levels.


As others have done, I thank Claire Baker for bringing the motion and, indeed, for hosting the reception a wee bit earlier in the year, which she mentioned. I also had the opportunity to take part in a couple of visits over the summer and I thank SCAN and its colleagues for welcoming me.

The first of those visits was to the Platform in Easterhouse, where that local community resource had collaborated with the Glasgow Women’s Library to explore the complex and challenging theme of what “home” means when a person is of more than one place, in an exhibition called “Home Where Home Is Not”. Because it worked across the two sites, it brought together women who were involved in both projects and who might otherwise never have met one another, let alone collaborated on such work.

Later in the year, I went to the Glasgow Sculpture Studios, which I have to admit I had never visited, although I was aware of the facility. I was a wee bit blown away by the amount of work that I saw going on there—the people there were proud to inform me that it is the biggest arts production facility in Scotland. I was introduced to artists who work in contemporary sculptural practice. The visits that SCAN, through the art in action campaign, has organised with 21 MSPs across the country have helped to bring recognition of the role that contemporary art plays across social policy and have underlined the need for sustained investment so that future generations can benefit from that cultural resource.

A key message from the campaign is that “Art is an essential part of our lives”. It is important to recognise that art is about more than just what is possible to commercialise and its economic impact. We can measure a significant economic impact, but the value of art, and people’s access to enjoying and contributing to it and expressing themselves creatively, is about far more than just its economic or commercial impact.

The work that I saw at the Glasgow Sculpture Studios is playing a big part in building strong relationships between the community, artists and the local environment through a range of projects and workshops. One project called “channels” helps to provide personal development programmes for young people between the ages of 16 and 25. Providing those workshops, in which young people can develop their personal skills, talents and confidence, simultaneously contributes to our creative sectors and improves the lives of young people.

On the tour, I met James Rigler and Kate V Robertson who are tenants in the studios. James told me that Glasgow Sculpture Studios are attractive for artists because of the resources that are made available—which otherwise they would never be able to afford—and said that the organisation fosters a spirit of collaboration between artists of different disciplines. Kate told me that she had been able to innovate in her work in ways that would not have been possible without access to the studios. She is also a founding member of the Sculpture Placement Group, which allows art works to be borrowed and displayed in community settings and commercial and public spaces, instead of sitting in art studios. That allows art to be tangible and real in people’s everyday lives.

Those examples have a social justice aspect. The visual arts have been moving more in the direction of media that people can access on a laptop, rather than the expensive facilities that they would not have access to without places such as the sculpture studios. If we want the visual arts and contemporary art to be for everybody, rather than an exclusive occupation for those who can afford access to it, we need to address the funding issues.

The visual arts manifesto has already been mentioned, so I will not go into it in detail, but we should recognise that it asks all of us here at Holyrood to involve ourselves in the wider discussion about arts funding and support, which need to be sustained so that Scotland can be a place where cultural and artistic creativity can flourish and everybody can find an opportunity to express their talent. I again thank Claire Baker for bringing the debate.


I am very pleased that we have had the opportunity to celebrate the Scottish Contemporary Art Network’s art in action campaign and the important role that art plays in public life. I congratulate Claire Baker on securing this debate; I particularly liked her reference to culture as a building block for a better Scotland.

It has always been a pleasure to promote and highlight the excellence of Scottish culture, including the excellence of the art produced in Scotland.

That excellence has been clearly highlighted through the art in action campaign.

I have always been clear that the arts should be funded for their own sake, to help ensure that individual artists are supported to produce art for its own sake. Arts funding should provide opportunities for individuals and communities to enjoy and embrace culture, and to experience great art. Of course, we all know that the arts can also transform society and empower individuals. One of the strengths of the art in action campaign is that as well as showcasing high-quality art, it has shown the myriad different contributions that art can make to local communities.

I have enjoyed learning about the works that have been highlighted by the campaign, and it has been fascinating to hear about the way in which artists have worked with communities through projects in not only galleries and studios but all kinds of venues, inside and outside, from the seashore to a bus.

We have just heard from Patrick Harvie about the work on “Home Where Home is Not” at the Platform in Easterhouse and the Glasgow Women’s Library, as well as the always-inspiring Glasgow Sculpture Studios. Stuart McMillan talked about RIG Arts and the tobacco warehouse in Greenock. I was very pleased to hear about the opportunity for a George Wyllie exhibition space at the proposed new terminal.

I am very supportive of many of the key messages of the art in action campaign. The campaign seeks to highlight the role that art plays in our lives. I absolutely agree that art is, and should be, an integral part of our lives, and I welcome any opportunity to celebrate the important role of art in communities.

The campaign also seeks to highlight the economic contribution of art, its role in our wider prosperity and the role that it can play in long-term change. I am very clear that culture has the potential to transform lives, and I thought that that was very ably demonstrated by the examples that Rachael Hamilton gave. Art in action generally should be a central consideration in our goals in so many ways, including in relation to reducing inequality and improving wellbeing.

Funding for the arts is always an important question in discussions such as the one that we are having today. The campaign comments on the percentage of the Scottish Government budget that goes to Creative Scotland. Of course, spend on culture by the Scottish Government extends far beyond Creative Scotland, and spend on art comes from departments beyond the culture portfolio. I have long been clear that funding for the arts should not just come from specific culture funding, but should leverage in funding from other areas of public spending. That is both necessary and justified, because culture benefits so many other areas.

An initiative such as SCAN’s art in action is always welcome, because it not only highlights artistic excellence but shows the very real value of culture beyond that, in contributing to improving lives in our communities in so many different ways. It is not about thinking about art in a transactional way; it is about celebrating art in and of itself and ensuring that excellent art is available for everyone to enjoy. It is also about recognising and promoting the much wider role that art can play and, importantly, that art practice plays.

We would all like there to be more money in the culture budget but, of course, that money has to come from somewhere. That is why I reject a silo approach to the culture budget and will continue to take a smart and pragmatic route, ensuring that we focus on the total impact of the money, not which budget it comes from.

Culture also benefits from spending on, for example, regeneration, city deals and justice and education. I am happy to give a few examples of that. Much of the tourism budget for the year of coasts and waters will go directly to artists and artistic activities. The south of Scotland economic partnership is helping to deliver a fresh approach to economic development in the south of Scotland, which has included the provision of funding for the Trimontium museum in Melrose. A wide range of organisations, including many public sector organisations such as Highlands and Islands Enterprise, provided funding to XpoNorth, Scotland’s leading creative industries festival, which took place in July this year. Those are just a few demonstrations of the need for us to be pragmatic and recognise that funding for the arts goes beyond the culture budget.

As has been mentioned, we will publish our culture strategy soon, and I would like to highlight the strategy’s themes, as all three of them have great relevance to today’s debate. The motion mentions support for

“the creative and professional development of artists, workers and organisations”,

and the strategy’s theme of “Strengthening culture” will engage with that issue. It represents a significant opportunity to rethink the boundaries between public, private and community so that new ways of working together in genuine partnership to support culture can be explored. That includes the provision of support through advocacy, championing and investing in culture, as well as brokering relationships within the sector and with wider industry, which is particularly relevant to contemporary art.

The “Transforming through culture” theme is focused on the role that culture, including visual art, can play in contributing to other policy outcomes, making art and culture central to those issues. The cultural sector provides services that are critical to the success, health, happiness, wealth and reputation of Scotland. The culture strategy will demonstrate the huge benefits that cultural services offer in tackling inequalities in our communities.

The third theme of the culture strategy is “Empowering through culture”, which celebrates culture in our communities—culture as an essential part of public and civic life. Like the other two themes of the culture strategy, that is very much what the art in action campaign has been about.

A few weeks ago, we all received a beautiful work of art from the campaign by the artist Ruth Ewan. It is both a piece of art to be treasured and, through the words of Mary Brooksbank, an important message for us to absorb. I welcome the discussion we have had today and I hope all of us will keep Mary Brooksbank’s message with us as we think about the challenges that we face as parliamentarians and as we continue to promote and celebrate the role that art plays in our lives and in the lives of our communities and the constituencies that we represent.

13:21 Meeting suspended.  

14:30 On resuming—