Culture in Dumfries and Galloway

dg Arts was a re-branded incarnation of the DGAA (Dumfries and Galloway Arts Association.) The DGAA had to be bailed out using council funds after serious overspending that threatened it’s existing. Lessons should have been learned. So after a costly rebranding exercise dg Arts emerged and last year (2011) was liquidated with debts of £280,000.

Speaking to staff who worked for dg Arts while it existed, it was clear that the executive board knew about the state of the accounts and had been regularly informed about financial concerns. But certain payments to fund a small number of projects and individuals effectively cost local jobs for the real workers. Where were the checks and balances? Why did the Council-influenced board persist in appointing directors they could not afford or who weren’t able to manage budgets properly.

Now a new Chamber of Arts has been put forward as the strategy to support the “Arts Sector” in the region with local art hubs designated for certain geographical areas and a region-wide hub for multi-area projects.

The SNP uses Creative Scotland as a body for administering arts sector funding which invites applications from the creative sector according to certain eligibilities. What I’d like to know is whether DG Council have a “ring-fenced” budget allocated to fund new hub and individual projects, and the administration of the overseeing Chamber of Arts. A figure of £177,000 was quoted in the DG Standard article. Creative Scotland under the SNP would rather nurture and support the arts in taking their own direction from the ground up, than allowing the local authorities to dictate what the arts need. I support artistic endeavour and creativity but I don’t support bad administration of public monies. Any official body costs money to staff and market and history suggests that DG Council should be monitored closely to make sure they do a competent job this time instead of feathering a few familiar nests.

One of the recurring concerns from last night’s Culture hustings in the Brigend Theatre in Dumfries was the need for marketing support so that amateur and small creative groups could get more footfall for their pound by utilising digital marketing channels, social networking, websites, and traditional methods depending on the audience. There are so many talented and hard-working groups on limited means who have endured. There are also a number of one-off flash-in-the-pan events that have very high costs and low continuity. Geurilla arts for Dumfries and Galloway?

Sometimes it feels like the biggest challenge for the region is how to mass-produce pocket-sized packets of “RobertBurnsCulture” units so that they could be stacked high and sold cheap to huge volumes of visitors to the region. Many events that emerge on show in the region, especially in Dumfries, are heavily badged with Burns. Burnslight and Big Burns Supper cost more than they brought and I’m not sure what the legacy is. Being forced to burn up a marketing budget on thousand of brochures might eventually help the biomass recycling output of the region but that is not a good measure of success. You can’t just stick “Burns” on something and immediately confer cultural cache. When it costs more to bring a visitor to an event than what they contribute there is something not quite right with the equation.

Cashing in on culture is one thing, especially for a region with a significant tourism sector, but the emphasis on having a better place to live that promotes cultural activities in and of themselves is more important. Why is there such a disconnect between the people who live in the region and the artistic menu on offer. I’d get sick of choosing between Burns-flavour or J.M.Barrie-flavour after a while if that’s all there was – that’s for the tourists to sample now and again.

Let’s make some new stuff so that future generations are inspired to live, work and holiday in Dumfries and Galloway. Local accountability means worthwhile projects are sustainable – empowering communities, rather than defining communities, is the best way to let people make culture.

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