for the Song
The football analogy is a good one to use when thinking of traditional music. The 'beautiful game' has become big business.
Most people will understand the concern from fans with the proposed BSkyB takeover of Manchester United and as other media groups get ready to pounce on other premier targets. Fans fear that at some point there will be a conflict of interest between the balance sheet and the game on the park and realise that eventually the coach of the junior team becomes a nobody compared with the accountant in the office.
Of course that would never happen with folk music.
The consultation process instigated by the Scottish Arts Council to ask the question 'Does Scotland Need a Traditional Music Development Agency?' is now drawing to a close. This further process of consultation took place because a number of respected people had urged the Scottish Arts Council to think again when they first suggested there was a need for a National Development Agency. Instead they argued that the first step needed to be the formation of a department within the SAC with specific responsibility for the traditional arts.
During the past year, Dave Francis has consulted widely. Some people appear to have been worn out by the process, some see it as irrelevant with the truth being that arts funding is now simply a Lottery with a few winners and many losers, and some have found the consultation process rewarding.
Will the final report be useful? I certainly hope so and I have enough confidence to believe that it won't mirror the joke statement: 'What is a camel? Answer: A horse designed by a committee'.
The steering group are carrying the expectations of a huge number of people on their shoulders. Their brief was wide and they could make an attempt to please everybody. Instead I expect them to get to the heart of the matter, reiterate the strong case for support for the traditional arts, make some definitions, set some bold aims and outline some key priorities. This may be a significant defining point in our government's cultural policies. The people concerned bear a huge responsibility. They must be bold and visionary.
Scotland is leading the way on support for traditional music with considerable sums of money currently directed towards traditional music related projects. This report should be important for the traditional arts throughout the whole of the UK and the implications for funding resulting from this could be as significant for the traditional arts as the setting up of the Arts Council after the second world war was for the high arts.
An item in an Association of Festival Organisers' newsletter referred to Rajan Hooper as being 'England's champion in the music department of the Arts Council of England' - but the almost complete absence of any significant expenditure on traditional music in the Arts Council of England's annual report combined with the low status of traditional music in many of the regional arts' boards, suggests that the champion has not been fighting many battles! The Scottish report may well prove to be a catalyst for progress in England. Were the Arts Council of England to follow Scotland's lead, then something like £10 million would be allocated to the traditional arts there. The Arts Council of England don't yet have a policy for traditional music and they are watching what is going on in Scotland with interest. This puts even more pressure to get it right first time and although there will be some differences, the principles in the report should apply across the whole of the UK. We should now be confidently expecting significant amounts of public funding to come into the traditional arts. Like it or loathe it, the Lottery has made certain of that. Administration of those funds must be in the hands of accountable people and applications should not be passed on the basis of a nod and wink.
This reinforces the view that those who called for the setting up of a department for the traditional arts within the Scottish Arts Council were right. It is clear that currently, Lottery awards are making a nonsense of attempts at strategic thinking and such a department would provide a valuable source of informed advice.
In a privileged exercise of media power, I am setting out some of the key elements I expect to see in the report. I sincerely hope that this is not seen as just an attempt to push my personal viewpoint as there is some element of collective ideas.
If we don't make a reasonable definition, development (or whatever results from this consultation) will simply be music development rather than traditional music development.
Throughout this discussion people use various terms - folk music, traditional music, traditional arts, etc. Trying to be too specific in every case becomes tiresome. We know what jazz is, what ballet is, what opera is, what classical music is. All these are broad sectors, but we can be broad without being all things to all men. We must have a better definition than 'everything is Folk music, I ain't ever heard a horse sing!'
There has to be clear definition of what traditional music is and a recognition that a definition which excludes somebody, is not making a value judgement on their music. One reason why many may shy away from a definition is from a fear that it may not include them. The Arts Council has a duty to all the arts so exclusion from any initiative for the traditional arts should hold no fears for the musician with a broader interest.
Aims and Priorities
There has to be a clear statement of aims and priorities. If public money is involved there must be criteria against which funding judgements are made. The report should recognise that setting priorities will not be easy and they will change over time. There will inevitably be disagreement on what these priorities might be, and there should be a procedure whereby people can then put up reasoned arguments and by a process of open lobbying endeavour to influence the future shape of these priorities.
Judgements on quality
When making funding decisions, qualitative judgements need to be made. At the moment there appears to be little correlation between the artistic quality of some projects and events and the level of grant aid.
Support for festivals tends to be linked more to what they received in the past than to their needs and plans for the future and some newer events of dubious musical quality have attracted higher funding than existing ones and arguably may even have damaged established ones.
Education is a core issue. Exposing people to traditional music in a thoughtful way helps to produce a new generation of traditional musicians. Of that there is no doubt. Norman Buchan showed that to be the case and recent experience reinforces it. It is the 'real thing' which really moves people, young and old. There maybe a barrier to go through first but going back to the roots produces long-term interest.
The educational route has been taken before in the early 1900's. We should learn from some of their mistakes. There could be real problems if people who don't understand the music take control of the educational agenda.
Support for those with
a track record of achievement
When making judgements on future projects, the track record of those responsible should be a significant factor in any decision to support their work. This shouldn't totally exclude new applicants but in the absence of a track record, the motive for their application needs to be looked at more closely.
There has to be a realistic appraisal of what really is being achieved. Often, real progress results from the drive of individuals. Breaking new ground requires a more entrepreneurial spirit and the work of individuals as well as organisations should be recognised. People with a track record should be trusted. Too much effort is spent preparing detailed plans, a process which can crush the drive of creative people.
Organisations need to
be able to develop a long-term vision
There is no doubt that core funding rather than project funding or guarantees against loss is more helpful to organisations who want to develop a longer term vision. Core funding should not be withdrawn lightly but neither should it offer too much of a comfort zone resulting in a lack of pressure to make a success of projects. Without being too competitive some diversity of organisations is needed.
Action after study
There have been too many studies which have not led to action. At the start of most feasibility studies, there is a good idea of what the outcome is likely to be. If there is not a reasonable chance of the likely recommendations being implemented, then feasibility studies should be simpler and cheaper. Thinking the unthinkable, just imagine what would have been wasted were this current consultation to lead to the call that a sizable National Development Agency for Traditional Music be established, yet in the meantime the Arts Council had decided it would be unable to fund such an option!
Enable people with talent,
skill and a desire to work full-time in Traditional Music to do so
This is a key point. The number of people working full-time in developmental and infrastructure aspects of traditional music is embarrassingly small. Even successful projects such as The Scots Music Group within the Adult Learning Project, have no full-time staff and there is no doubt that this limits their work.
History has taught us that individuals with a passion can make a difference. You only have to look at the fruits of Tom Anderson's work with Shetland music. He was only able to work on this full-time after he retired. There are many other 'Tom Andersons' out there including professional teachers who would love to devote their teaching efforts to traditional music, and there are people doing administrative work whose skills could be put to good effect.
To use another Shetland example. Malcolm Green moved to Shetland largely because of his interest in fiddle music. He became the leader of the Shetland Isles Council, making an immense contribution at a time when the Islands were experiencing huge change because of the oil industry. He was a talented man who sadly died prematurely. One wonders what he might have been able to do for a national music agency had that route been open to him.
Who can make these judgements?
The Arts Council have had procedures for this for years. They are called committees. We need a traditional arts committee served by people who really understand the art. This will inevitably lead to apparent conflicts of interest but with a sensibly sized committee of people who have actually DONE something not just talked about doing things, this hurdle can be overcome.
I hope that this report when published can be summarised on one A4 page and please - no recommendations suggesting that we need further consultation. A Sandy Bell's Broadsheet issue many years ago, heralded a breakthrough with the Arts Council. Little new is likely to come out of this latest consultation which wasn't there ten years ago. However, in 1999 hopefully, we will see some action. It is time to get on with the job.