The following write-up by our Scotland Policy and Partnerships Coordinator, David McDonald, was produced after attending the November 2023 meeting of the Scottish Parliament's Cross-Party Group on Culture and Communities

David McDonald presenting a copy of our Cash for Culture resource to convener Foysol Choudhury, MSP for LothianIt's been a busy period for policy in Scotland, with the publication of the report on the long-running enquiry into Culture in Communities, and the annual pre-budget scrutiny process. All of this policy work has allowed me to expand my network and deepen my knowledge by working in partnership across the creative cultural sector.

Earlier in the month, I joined Making Music and Community Leisure Scotland in addressing the Cross-Party Group on Culture and Communities at the Scottish Parliament. A session was held to examine the impact of local government funding cuts on community-led cultural and creative activity.

I know from my previous role how vital the role of local government is. Some 30 years ago, writer and broadcaster Joyce McMillan wrote that, 'the local councils are the pivot on which cultural life in Scotland depends'. 30 years on and it's clear that this pivot is broken, and councils are no longer in a position to be that fixed point of reliability and support.

More than a decade of cuts has left local culture budgets unbalanced and unsustainable. Many councils and cultural trusts are being forced to make decisions not through choice but by necessity, weighing cultural spending against statutory services. In this scenario, culture is seen as a nice-to-have, rather than a vital, life-fulfilling, imagination-sparking, health-improving service.

In addressing the meeting, I set out Creative Lives' belief in the power of creative activity to boost civic pride and belonging, support wellbeing, and end social isolation. I demonstrated this through the incredible work of our previous Creative Lives Awards winners, including Sewing 2Gether All Nations and Overdrive Dance Company. I highlighted the local innovation of our Scotland microgrants recipients and the incredible talent of the tens of thousands of local volunteers who provide a platform for creative expression, support those in need, and build local resilience.

There is no doubt in my mind that volunteer-led, locally-based creative groups represent the true backbone of culture in Scotland. Our communities cannot flourish without them.

We put forward recommendations to the Cross-Party Group aimed at supporting grassroots groups to flourish and thrive including:

  • Review Scotland’s Community Empowerment Act. Cut the red tape that adversely impacts people's ability to be creative, simplify processes, and turn the Act into an enabling system to breathe new life back into closed community venues.
  • Get serious about a genuine place-based approach. Governments should commit to mapping local cultural assets (which we're pursuing through our Creativity Map and our Creative Citizens service) to enable them to uncover and engage a wider range of grassroots creative groups.
  • Give culture a voice within local decision-making structures, e.g. community planning. Local creative groups should be represented at the table, take part in discussions, and play a role in shaping, celebrating, and preserving local cultural assets, traditions, and heritage.

Scotland’s wider cultural sector faces another challenging year ahead and, despite the promises of additional funding, it looks as though budgets will continue to tighten.

Amidst this challenge lies an opportunity for grassroots groups to collaborate, innovate, and advocate for the role they play in sustaining the creative fabric of our communities. Creative Lives has a critical role to play here in helping to unlock a superpowered sector that embodies the principles of community-driven change and empowerment, and can go on to become the new pivot for cultural life in Scotland. 

Image shows David McDonald presenting a copy of our Cash for Culture resource to convener Foysol Choudhury, MSP for Lothian