At Culture Collective, part of our role is to celebrate and advocate for the role of culture in communities, and for artists and freelancers. We share our advocacy activity here, for transparency, reference, and in the hope that it feeds into wider activity in this space.

In July 2023 we submitted a response to the Scottish Government’s budget scrutiny on funding for culture for 2024-25. In developing this call for responses, the Government said:

“The Committee wants to hear from individuals, groups and businesses operating within the culture sector. These views help the Committee to make recommendations to the Scottish Government ahead of its Budget for 2024-25”.

We were keen to make sure that the specific experiences of projects and artists within Culture Collective were considered in the development of this budget. Our responses to the questions asked were as follows:

Q8. In our pre-budget report last year, the Committee described the operating environment of the culture sector as facing a “perfect storm” of long-term budget pressures, reduced income generation, and increased operating costs. How has this evolved over the last 12 months? What impact has the Budget for 2023-24 had on the culture sector?

Circumstances for community-led arts projects continue to be tough, with many reporting increased need (for example, for the provision of food alongside activity) as well as increasing costs (particularly around energy and other core costs).

Scottish Artist Union recommended rates of pay continue to rise in line with increasing costs of living. Where funding and budgets remain static (or are falling), it is often impossible for pay rates to provide a meaningful income to creative workers, and freelancers in particular. We risk losing experienced professionals to more stable career options, and / or to creating a sector characterised by poor mental-health, chronic insecurity and burnout.

Over the past 12 months Culture Collective funding has been an important mitigation factor for the 26 projects in receipt of funding. The substantial level of this funding has proved an important source of income to prioritise income for creative workers and participatory activity, as well as enabling additional funding for access provision, training and development.

The forecast end of Culture Collective funding in October 2023 therefore creates a situation in which it will be impossible to continue this provision. Creative jobs will be discontinued, and organisations agonise over the impact of ceasing provision which has been carefully designed to meet the (ongoing) needs of their community.  Participatory arts relies on crafting genuine, trusting relationships with community members. To dip in and out of provision because of funding constraints is both inefficient and unethical, yet this is the position that many projects now find themselves in.

Q9. Our report also concluded that this crisis provides an opportunity to accelerate innovative solutions to the budgetary pressures within the sector. What progress has been made on this in the last 12 months? And at a time of limited resources, what other innovative approaches could the Scottish Government take forward to support the culture sector?

Culture Collective funding has been innovative and unprecedented. Providing substantial, 2.5 year funding for participatory, community-led creative activity has enabled communities all over Scotland to access creative provision on their doorstep. Over 500 jobs have been created, and over 600 organisations and groups have been part of delivering creative activity in communities. Investment in community-led, participatory art has seen an increased profile for this part of the creative sector, bringing voice and awareness to community arts in a new and important way.

The impact on communities has been exceptional. Stage one of the evaluation by Queen Margaret University into the Culture Collective notes particular impact in terms of new skills valued by participants, confidence and communication (including confidence to return to work), new avenues for self-expression and making new community connections.

In times of limited resources, we have seen that investing in arts workers and in communities creates a ripple effect of impact. Communities are more able to take action on issues that matter to them, collaboration impacts other service provision such as in education, addiction recovery, climate change and mental health, and arts workers are able to make a sustainable living in communities all over Scotland.

Culture Collective funding has also allowed projects (organisations, freelancers and communities) to champion and embed positive changes in terms of access, equity and inclusion. These steps – which are vital if cultural provision is to reach a wider cross-section of Scotland’s population, demands more time and care (and therefore, sustained investment). Uncertain future funding for these projects risks newly engaged participants being (re)excluded from cultural provision.

Where budgets are squeezed, we have seen that long-term funding can make as much difference as increases to funding, enabling more meaningful collaboration, responsible forward planning, and more ambitious activity. We would argue that investment in necessary, ongoing need has to be made in long-term (5-10 year) timeframes, and that such a commitment could go some way to offsetting the impact of likely funding cuts. Stage one of the evaluation by Queen Margaret University into the Culture Collective notes that “the multi-year timespan of the [Culture Collective] programme, longer-term funding agreements and the scale of its budget make this programme an important precedent and are expected to be significant factors in the projects’ overall impacts”.

Q10. The Committee called for the forthcoming refreshed Culture Strategy Action Plan to provide a clear and strategic sense of how the Scottish Government is working to ensure a more sustainable future for the sector. How should the refreshed Culture Strategy Action Plan help to inform future budgetary decisions within the culture sector?

The Culture Strategy Action Plan advocates for investing in the cultural workforce as a means of strengthening culture. The experience of Culture Collective has shown how rare it is for community-led organisations to be funded at a level sufficient to invest in their staff and pay sustainable, union-advised rates of pay. Since these costs increase year-on-year, funding awards should increase similarly. Ringfenced, and independently managed funding for training and development has also enabled many freelancers to access unparalleled training provision, investing in the diversity and sustainability of our creative workforce.

The Action Plan’s aim of empowering through culture sets out an ambition to invest in culture that is rooted in the local and the everyday. The work of the Culture Collective over the past 2.5 years has been an extraordinary illustration of the potential of this ambition. We would argue that continuing investment in Culture Collective would realise this aim of the action plan, building on the impact of this initial investment and recognising the need for a long-term, ongoing commitment to funding and prioritising this work as a vital (though typically under-recognised) part of the cultural sector.