is the Protest?
' .. if the proceeds of the Lottery were directed to the defence budget, we could stop kidding people that buying a Lottery ticket was an efficient way of giving to good causes and government could then allocate funding in a planned way according to priorities and needs.'
The Art Advocate's column in our last issue generated a lot of feedback. People recognised the truth of the situation described in the column yet most remain content to 'play the game' rather than challenge the system.
Traditional music has always been a voice of protest. Much of the 'folkscene' is moving away from this and is losing some of its ideals. It is becoming middle aged and middle class in its values. Now we only seem to sing about injustice and songs about the travelling people sit alongside a tolerance of, and even participation in, prejudice against some of today's marginalised groups in society. Other people seem more concerned with political correctness than challenge, telling us not to sing songs about whaling or hunting, but content to ignore the real issues.
Some of the established folk music organisations also seem to have lost their way and some constructive challenge to their current activity and thinking is needed. There are lots of smaller groupings still in the early 'passion and ideal driven' phase of development. It may be wrong to dismiss the folk establishment but competition which results in new thinking or causes people to look again to their aims, can only be beneficial.
Currently there is a dearth of leadership. Is the low level of arts funding for traditional music a problem with authority or is our advocacy simply not good enough? Where are today's Ewan MacColls or Bert Lloyds? What are the issues of the day which demand a response in song? There will be no single issue, life is not that simple, but there will be common causes, poverty issues being one of them.
My dislike of the Lottery must be fairly obvious by now but I remain surprised at the relative absence of protest from the arts world. I am not against the acceptance of Lottery funding, that is the funding mechanism which the government has chosen, but I do feel it is right to protest at the effects of funding in this way.
The Lottery is a direct tax on the poor and too much of the money ends up in bureaucratic waste and in schemes with little relevance to those who pay the tax. It also causes problems for charities who are opposed to gambling yet who are providing much needed services.
I wish that the proceeds of the Lottery were directed to the defence budget then we could stop kidding people that buying a Lottery ticket was an efficient way of giving to good causes. The government could then fund the arts in a planned way according to priorities and needs.
A tale of three cities
In three of the capital cities within the UK there are important folk music establishments, all of them doing creditable work. None of them however, is really able to provide the full range of services they are capable of or at one time aspired to do.
In London, Cecil Sharp House houses an important archive open to the public. The building has lots of potential but on the whole is under used. In Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, there is Balnain House, 'The Home of Highland Music'. It has a welcoming cafe/bar, a well stocked shop, a tourist friendly exhibition area, a small performance space and a regular workshop programme. As 'The Home of the Highland Music' it has probably got the entrance hall and sitting room right, but one suspects that there is not too much in the way of real substance in the background.
In the third capital, Edinburgh, there is 'The School of Scottish Studies'. Although it is possible to get in, it is not in fact open to the public as it is part of Edinburgh University. It houses an important archive and publishes quite a lot of its material, but some staff who would much prefer to research and collect, have to spend much of their time teaching. For most of their students it is an academic rather than a musical study.
These comments are not meant to knock the achievements of any of these organisations, they are meant to point out that lack of resources limit their ability to work to their full potential.
If the various elements of these three organisations were put together, the result would be one which did collecting, archiving, preservation, research, publishing, teaching, advocacy, event promotion, masterclass, workshop, information provision and even provided a place to meet, eat and shop.
Each organisation quite rightly has its own priorities, strengths and differences in style, but the point I am trying to make is that all of them to some degree are only able to perform part of their planned role. In our capital cities it should surely be possible to find this full range of services. If they can't be found there, what does this say about the level of provision elsewhere.
Why is this the case? London and Edinburgh are well endowed with art galleries and museums with works of art bought with huge amounts of public money. Why is our own musical heritage treated with such contempt?