Let’s scrap the class di­vide in the arts

The Herald - - OPINION - CATRIONA STE­WART

IT was my great for­tune to have a mother who took an in­ter­est in the arts and was damned sure I would have an in­ter­est too. At the ear­li­est op­por­tu­nity I was taken to see Scot­tish Bal­let and sent off to bal­let les­sons.

Com­ing from a work­ing class fam­ily, it’s a puz­zle as to how my mum de­vel­oped such predilec­tions. But she did, tak­ing her­self off to the opera as a stu­dent, and to the theatre.

I was hy­per aware at pri­mary school that these were not main­stream in­ter­ests and tried to keep them se­cret.

I was un­for­tu­nately foxed by a teacher who thought it might be ed­u­ca­tional for me to dance for my class­mates. They were trooped through to an empty class­room and plopped in rows on the floor to watch the bizarre spec­ta­cle of me in a white leo­tard, seamed bal­let tights and white tutu per­form a short, sound­less bal­let. I’m not sure any of us ever re­cov­ered.

Was any­one sur­prised by the find­ings of the new Na­tional Cul­tural Strat­egy, that cul­ture in Scot­land is dom­i­nated by the mid­dle classes? Any­one who has been to the bal­let or the opera or a clas­si­cal con­cert will have no­ticed, even sub­con­sciously, that the au­di­ences are over­whelm­ingly mid­dle class, as are the per­form­ers.

A sur­vey car­ried out by Gold­smiths Univer­sity and arts or­gan­i­sa­tion Cre­ate, in 2015, found more than three-quar­ters of in­dus­try re­spon­dents came from a mid­dle class back­ground.

Some 90 per cent had been re­quired to work for free dur­ing their ca­reer and more than a quar­ter of those who were paid earned less than £5000 a year.

To get ahead in the arts you have to have out­side sup­port – not some­thing freely avail­able to those from

Cul­ture doesn’t have to be ‘high­brow’. Strictly Come Danc­ing can be cul­ture. So can Celtic: The Mu­si­cal

de­prived back­grounds.

But it’s no longer the case that school chil­dren aren’t ex­posed to cul­ture. Scot­tish Bal­let does end­less out­reach work in schools and is poised to tour Matthew Bourne’s High­land Fling to tiny venues around Scot­land. Scot­tish Opera sim­i­larly takes it­self off to smaller venues in “un­likely” lo­ca­tions, tours schools and has its Bam­bino pro­gramme for ba­bies. Truly ac­cess all arias.

The RSNO sim­i­larly runs umpteen projects for nurs­ery, pri­mary and sec­ondary aged chil­dren.

Arts or­gan­i­sa­tions com­pete for pub­lic fund­ing and so have to show they’ve earned it, not to men­tion the fact that chang­ing the sta­tus quo mat­ters as much for the in­sti­tu­tion as it does for the peo­ple. To sur­vive, cul­ture needs pay­ing au­di­ences.

Wider ex­po­sure is be­ing tack­led but is per­cep­tion? We take a some­what nar­row def­i­ni­tion of cul­ture and work on the as­sump­tion that the likes of opera and clas­si­cal mu­sic are in­her­ently ben­e­fi­cial to all.

I can’t abide opera. And that’s OK. I like other things. I like Bey­once.

Her oeu­vre does more for my well­be­ing than Giuseppe Verdi. Cul­ture doesn’t have to be the nar­row space we re­fer to as “high­brow”. Strictly Come Danc­ing can be cul­ture. So can Celtic: The Mu­si­cal.

I won­der, as an aside, if there is slight pre­sen­teeism from the mid­dle classes, in en­joy­ing clas­si­cal mu­sic and the like. It’s slightly sur­real, the no­tion that one might en­joy Madame But­ter­fly if both of one’s par­ents have a univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion but pre­fer

Miss Saigon if one is from a coun­cil es­tate.

Part of the is­sue is en­sur­ing young peo­ple, who bear re­spon­si­bil­ity for en­sur­ing the fu­ture of our cul­tural cap­i­tal, know ev­ery art form avail­able and there are no bar­ri­ers to ac­cess it. Another is scrap­ping this no­tion of “mid­dle class” and “work­ing class” cul­tural pur­suits.

Ul­ti­mately, cul­ture is a na­tion’s con­ver­sa­tion with it­self. We can talk in many dif­fer­ent lan­guages. What’s vi­tal is work­ing out how we make the dis­cus­sion open to all.

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