As I was finishing writing this story, news broke that the Scottish government had decided to reverse its proposal to reduce more than 10% of Creative Scotland’s budget; a loss of £7 million that would have impacted half of its regularly-funded organisations. This decision came after 15,000 people signed a last-minute petition organised by the charity Campaign for the Arts, as well as the work of Culture Counts, the Scottish Trade Union Congress and the sector unions, including Equity, Society of Authors and the Scottish Artists Union.
“If [the Scottish government] didn’t change course, the damage would have been irreversible,” says Campaign for the Arts’ Director, Jack Gamble, speaking a few days after the proposal was abandoned. “We would have been looking at devastating consequences to Scotland’s culture.”
He is also quick to highlight that while the Scottish government’s decision to restore Creative Scotland’s funding should be celebrated, it doesn’t increase an already limited pot of money for the country’s arts sector. “I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but this only brings Creative Scotland funding to standstill levels with last year during a time of rocketing inflation. They have listened to us and acted and we are thankful for that, but we’re not out of the woods. The campaign goes on.”
Gamble began Campaign for the Arts during the pandemic while he was working at a community theatre in Hackney, London. The aim was to unite sector bodies during times of crisis for the UK’s arts industries, and present accessible information to the public. In just two weeks after the Campaign began, 150,000 people had joined the campaign and then the UK government announced the Culture Recovery Fund. “At that point, we thought this was an amazing groundswell of support for the cultural sector,” says Gamble. “I thought we need to keep going with this and do more.”
Three years on, the organisation has run successful campaigns in Nottingham in 2021, working with workers and cultural organisers to significantly reduce a cut in council funding for the arts, and in Windsor and Maidenhead in 2022, when a 100% cut to arts funding was proposed. “We not only managed to stop the 100% cut, but we actually got a 17% increase in arts funding,” says Gamble. Other campaigns have been around arts and education, responding to cuts to arts courses in higher education and “the fact that over the last decade, access to creative subjects in state schools has been decimated.”
Now, Campaign for the Arts has 250,000+ supporters across the UK and representation in every one of the country’s 650 parliamentary constituencies. The mission is to create a network, so that when local arts organisations are threatened by funding cuts and closure, Campaign for the Arts can step in to offer their support and spread the news. “We don’t have limitless resources,” says Gamble. “But we are trying to develop a nationwide alliance which means that when there are these crunch moments, like with Creative Scotland, we can let people know about them and support campaigns to protect arts provision and opportunities.”
After a bleak winter of closing arts venues, the effort from Campaign for the Arts and Scotland’s arts sector unions to push back against the government’s proposed funding cuts to the industry has offered some necessary hope. While, as Gamble highlights, there is still much work to be done to push for more arts funding, not just less, the public rallying around the arts has also proven that it’s not just artists or industry workers who want and benefit from a sustainable and healthy cultural landscape – it’s everyone.
“I work in this industry because for all my life I’ve loved arts and culture,” says Gamble. “Supporting the arts isn’t just about supporting arts industry workers, it’s also about supporting the cultural life of the country and the world. This is about the kind of society we want to live in and the kind of lives we want to lead.”