Get it Right!
The recognition of the place of traditional music at the heart of a nation's arts clearly stated by The Scottish Arts Council is important. In going further and saying that the balance of support towards the professional arts - opera, classical music, ballet etc., - that has taken place since the Arts Councils were set up in the 1940's was wrong, they have given a huge boost to the case for proper attention to be given to the indigenous arts. This is not only important to Scotland, it will surely influence policies of the Arts Councils in England, Wales and Ireland and will help to counter some of the threat to traditional music in broadcasting.
It would be wrong to lose sight of the fact that it has not been the Arts Council that has produced the current state of health in the folk scene. Progress has been made as a result of the efforts of lots of people working over many years often without any support from the Arts Councils. The Arts Council has not created the bandwagon but it is great to see them coming on board. Now is a unique opportunity to get it right.
The SAC are not going to save or 'develop' traditional music on their own - if they want to help they will need to join and support the efforts of those already there. There is a lot of support for something to happen but this should not be misinterpreted as support for any course of action. Too much work has already been done and it is better to go slowly in the right direction than quickly in the wrong one.
We seem to be heading towards the setting up of a third party organisation, independent of the SAC, acting as a National Development Agency. To a significant number of people that seems to be the wrong starting point. Many feel strongly that the first step should be the formation of a traditional music committee or ideally a department for the traditional arts within the Arts Council.
The main reason for this is that status alongside other artforms is important. It is also vital that decision making is broadly based and open. It seems extremely unlikely that there will be enough funding for an Agency to have anything other than a small staff and there is a real fear that at worst it may be controlled by a narrow interest group, at best just too narrow in experience and unable to cope with the diverse demands.
There are logical reasons for having an outside Agency but these largely revolve around financial considerations and current political thinking. Robin Morton feels strongly that the issue shouldn't be decided by current political expediency. Robin was quoted in a national newspaper as saying 'Scotland's music has a long and proud history and by its very nature eschews expediency. Leave that to 'A Parcel O' Rogues'.
The issues that face us are important and the opportunity for progress is real. It would be a pity if differences of opinion led to a distrust of peoples' motives. This is not a battle and it must not become personality driven. Due credit must be given to Matthew Rooke for his efforts. A consultation process was started and clearly more discussion is needed. The case for the forum for that discussion being a committee within the SAC comprising of people with peer respect from the folk music community, is strong.
The SAC, having stated the importance of the traditional arts, should devote significantly more resources to it. SAC support for traditional music has increased in the last few years but it is still at an extremely low level compared with the overall arts budget. The argument that others must suffer for our work to progress does not hold water. Look at the large sums of money found recently to support the national companies. If the will is there it can be done.
We don't need to rush this. Let us take the opportunity to get it right.