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13 Dec 2018

Time to put culture in its rightful place

Written by Diarmid Hearns, Head of Public Policy at the National Trust for Scotland
Kintail
We’re calling on the Scottish Government to redefine ‘culture’, following research which suggests public attitudes are not reflected in current policy.

We commissioned a survey of 1,115 people across Scotland to find out what they felt should be included in the nation’s next culture strategy, which is to be agreed in early 2019. It discovered that we Scots have a broad view of culture – regardless of gender, age, and income group – with an emphasis on places and participation.

However, the current national policy approach largely focuses on more conventional areas of culture, such as performing arts and the creative industries. It seems to us there’s a ‘disconnect’ between policy and the people.

More than half the people we surveyed (53%) said they felt that parks, gardens and designed landscapes should be part of the proposed cultural strategy, while nearly half (48%) felt that landscapes, natural beauty, and historic buildings and sites should also be included.

Mar Lodge Estate
Mar Lodge Estate

Parks, gardens and designed landscapes were shared priorities, regardless of gender. They also featured among the top two priorities of every age cohort, with the exception of 16–24-year-olds.

Expressions of culture that involved participation, like festivals and events (48%), as well as sports (49%), scored similarly highly – particularly among younger participants.

Sports and recreation was the highest priority for males, scoring 58%. Female respondents tended to favour the performing arts and appeared to be slightly more culturally engaged than men, with 589 preferences expressed compared to 530.

Younger people, men and lower income groups tended to have fewer culture interests on average, compared to older, female or higher income respondents. Only 1% of respondents said that public funding for cultural pursuits should be used elsewhere.

By contrast, performing arts scored 44%; creative industries, such as film, media, games and animation was selected by 40% of people; and visual arts was included by 39%. Meanwhile, intangible heritage – such as traditions, customs and stories – scored 38%; languages 36%; and architecture and design received 33%.

These findings suggest that ‘culture’ has a lot more to it than the current national approach allows. While it’s predominantly focused on what might be considered more conventional areas – the performing arts and creative industries parts of the economy – what it really lacks is an appreciation for the role that places play in our shared concept of culture.

Yet, historic buildings, landscapes and other kinds of ‘places’ seem to be exactly what Scots consider culture. They are made by the actions of current and past generations, and the physical and emotional experience of our special places are at the heart of our culture. Our research indicates there’s a clear disconnect between what the existing approach suggests should be considered culture and what the public believes it encompasses. The launch of the new Culture Strategy at the beginning of 2019 is an opportunity for us to bridge that cultural schism.

Our research suggests that if we recognise the cultural value of place, the new strategy could have greater reach and impact than if it remains focused on its current scope. Along with recognising the value of places, the prioritisation of sport and recreation is worth further exploration – particularly to engage men, who tended to have lower cultural engagement than women. The fact that just 1% of those surveyed said that public money should be used elsewhere demonstrates the high degree to which we all value culture in Scotland. That’s why it is so important that we do as much as possible to help it flourish in all its forms.

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