Cultural Fabric Under Attack

largeThe corporate takeover of our towns and cities has been rampant in recent years. In combination with chronic under-funding of the Arts, the impact on cultural life across Scotland is all too strongly felt already, with no sign that our political leadership has the will to change direction.

The Arts provide fantastic opportunities to develop life-long skills of analytical thinking, clarity in expression, collaboration, co-operation and creativity, but we must make space for art to happen. Art binds communities together, and as the Scottish Green Party Spokesperson for Culture, I want to listen to communities around the country. To learn how I can best represent them to ensure we’re not just cynically talking while votes are up for grabs, but are making the case for consistency between our most important Holyrood campaign ever in 2016 and the Local Authority elections in 2017.

In Glasgow, Greens were proud to lend support to the successful campaign to save the Blue Chair – a community cafe under threat of closure by the Council despite the obvious value of such a meeting spot for political discussion, artistic performance, and space for those recovering from addiction, and ignoring the shortfall in Council provision that such an initiative goes some way to address.

Just along the road, I spoke out about the Arches’ closure – a glaring example of the disregard for the role of art and creativity in what Scotland is internationally renowned for. It seems nobody is bringing forward plans to salvage Scotland’s cultural integrity, and some appear resigned to abandoning the Arches for G1 group to stamp their branding on – one part of Glasgow not already in its control.

The obscenity of this crisis benefiting G1– a company notorious for shameful low pay and other deeply disturbing practices – shows the need for more Green politicians and activists willing to stand up for the young and the creative who were emboldened by the mini cultural renaissance of indyref, and stand against the corporate sell-off of our culture.

Now, on the other side of the country, G1 look set to cut and paste their design into a space that Edinburgh has failed to preserve or recognise the cultural significance of – the Art Deco Odeon cinema on Clerk Street. As poet Harry Giles straightforwardly puts it:

“Another opportunity to support Edinburgh’s flagging year-round Arts culture missed. Another decision to ignore community initiatives in favour of big money. Another denial of grassroots arts projects in favour of millionaire business schemes. Another extension of G1’s tentacles into every once-loved dimension of urban life. Another instance of the complete lack of understanding of what it takes to care for a city and its people.”

Without political representation for the need to promote the Arts and wider culture, the potential for so many Scots to find their voice is being snuffed out with each new venue closing down or changing hands.

While proudly communicating our social justice and environmental credentials, as we occasionally are too shy to do, my vision for the Greens going forwards includes establishing the Scottish Green Party as the Party of the Arts and creativity. Unashamedly valuing and defending the Arts in their broadest sense for the crucial role they play in people’s lives – providing voice, and often a lifeline for marginalised people and communities.

I know we can rely upon the support of members in branches, and people in communities across the country to design healthier (and more fun!) models of society, learning from our shared experience of how others do things differently. We have all the right ingredients to work together to build a society that truly cares for its people.

This world is but a canvas to our imagination, so it’s time we recognise the urgency of empowering those with the vision to create a better future for us all – and let them get on with it.

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  1. tom pate says:

    The ‘A’ listed Edinburgh Odeon has been closed and at risk of demolition for 12 long years, and survived only because of a massive and sustained grass roots campaign by the people of Edinburgh Southside and beyond. The fact that the building has been bought by an organisation with a good track record restoring historic buildings, and at no cost to the public purse, is an extraordinarily positive outcome. Zara Kitson and Harry Giles had these 12 long years to suggest alternative ideas, but as someone long involved in the campaign to save the Odeon, I don’t remember hearing from them. What precisely were the “community initiatives ignored” in the fight to preserve this wonderful building? Or the grassroots arts projects “denied”? Actually, the building’s survival was only possible because of a “community initiative” of the most extraordinary and sustained kind but, it seems, not one noticed by either Ms Kitson or Mr Giles. Folk need to get real about this kind of thing; a great and much-loved building has been saved and will be well restored by the private sector. In the absence of alternatives, and In these difficult times, what’s not to celebrate?

    1. Anton says:

      Sounds good to me. Perhaps Zara Kitson could explain what, exactly, the Greens did to try and save this building.

  2. Derek says:

    2004 Duddingston House Properties involved, the same group responsible for the ‘development’ of the old Royal High School, currently before the council for planning permission.
    To be honest the Odeon crisis was exascerbated by someone at DHP being dumb enough / ? deliberately smooth enough to consider Gerry Boyle (aka ‘an instant world’ and brother of SuBo) capable of organising live entertainments. DHP have tried to get a number of organisations involved, and have been rebuffed repeatedly by Edinburgh’s planners – and by the money men, I bet. This culminates in some demolition in preparation for a rebuild as student flats, and G1’s involvement.
    Here’s a blow by blow report http://www.buildingsatrisk.org.uk/ref_no/2259
    Like many such projects, people have wrung their hands but no viable use has been forthcoming.
    My point being that politicians can also wring their hands but it won’t do much good in the long run. G1’s involvement follows 12 years of ineffective shillyshallying.
    In no way do I approve the Cinema’s conversion to flats, but that’s what happens when politicians and arts organisations fail to find a solution.

  3. Black Rab says:

    Glasgow is and has been in the process of being systematically destroyed architecturally, socially and culturally for over 40 years now since the instigation of thatcher and her spawn. The so called city fathers who have wined and dined on us have been fucking us and this city for far too long.
    New Glasgow City Council leader macaveety is another sad fuck of an excuse of someone with supposed sufficient vision to be in charge of a city he cares nothing for otherwise he wouldn’t be in the organisation he is in now. He’s just another of thatchers children thrown up by the labour careerist party who will only lead Glasgow down the road to more generalised impoverishment. Fuck you macaveety and everyone in your so called party and all the way down (if thats possible) to the bottom.
    Zara, you are so right……….this world is a canvas for our imaginations. The canvas that has been painted for us has been done so by insensitive imbecilic morons who think themselves our leaders.
    Where did it all go wrong?

  4. Sara Mac says:

    Plans to close Cumbernauld Theatre (used to be Cottage Theatre) have been made by North Lanarkshire Council with a promise to “incorporate” a new theatre in a local Cumbernauld High School which now appears to be in some doubt as it seems there is a problem with finance. Our Theatre is the only place of culture which has existed in the town since 1960s. Looks likely that we’ll lose it.

  5. tartanfever says:

    So corporations are taking over our cultural spaces according to Zara Kitson and she uses the Odeon cinema in Edinburgh as an example of that apparent destruction.

    Ok, here’s just a wee snippet from Wiki on the corporate history of the Odeon brand –

    ‘Since the turn of the century, Odeon has undergone a series of sales after The Rank Group needed cash injections to reduce their debt, firstly to Cinven which merged Odeon with Cinven’s ABC Cinemas. In 2004, the chain was purchased by Terra Firma and merged with United Cinemas International to produce the largest cinema chain in Europe.’

    Is it just me or does this seem to clash with just about everything in this article ?

  6. Marcia Blaine says:

    Why doesn’t Scotland have an effective arts agency that engages with these issues?

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