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Education Culture & Sport
Highland Council - Caithness
Vision of Caithness
4.4 Identification of barriers to access and participation
4.4.1 One barrier identified by the team was confusion as to what the arts in Caithness are and, so, how they can best be supported and developed. The perceived difficulty in knowing ‘What’s On’ across Caithness does not help. Indeed, it can lead to unfortunate clashes: a recent visit of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra coincided with the major outdoor event, Assipattle. Perhaps neither in the end would much affect the audience for the other, but they might have. A clash diary would seem highly advisable.
4.4.2 Despite the clear evidence of the range and depth of positive activity seen by the study team, the team also observed a sense among informants on the arts scene and the members of the public that somehow something is missing. There is a strong feeling, one shared by officers of Highland Council and the Scottish Arts Council, that the potential of Caithness is not being fulfilled. In the team’s view, there are a number of reasons for this perception. One is that, notwithstanding the previous paragraphs, there is, as yet no coherent overall shared view of what the arts are in Caithness. Some examples may make the position clear:
· There has sometimes been in UK arts a sense of rivalry and even disparagement between the professional and amateur sectors. This is by now a thoroughly old-fashioned standpoint, as modern practice has more and more tended to support social inclusion and the involvement of all members of the community in co-operation between the professional and amateur sectors. There may, however, exist attitudes in Caithness that linger on from an earlier, more divisive, age.
· It was possible to hear informants talk negatively of aspects of current provision, suggesting, for example, that somehow traditional music, say, was not really a concern of an arts study or strategy. There appeared a related danger of division between what in the twentieth century were called the ‘popular’ and the ‘high’ arts. Such a division is often used to stigmatise certain art forms as not worth serious attention or support. Modern understanding is that the arts must be inclusive and false distinctions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art damage both sectors so defined.
· The development of arts activities throughout the UK in the last twenty years has been towards the recognition of the pervasiveness and the social, economic and community importance of the arts. In the past this has sometimes been seen by senior arts figures as diminishing the arts by driving them from a ‘pure’ grounding in art for the sake of its artistic, creative, intellectual and spiritual values into the market place or ‘social work’. Yet, a wide variety of senior modern artists have argued that the recognition of the importance of the arts to the spiritual health of a community is reinforced, not undermined, by recognising that the arts support and develop benefits for the community, health, well being, and social cohesion and inclusion. These views are supported by a wide range of objective studies that have demonstrated conclusively the important benefits to communities of a range of well-supported arts activities.
4.4.3 Another evident barrier was that of transport. Within Caithness, an effective road network links all the towns and villages, though much reflects the rural history with many twists and turns, and some single carriageway, including the main route along the north coast into Sutherland. There is modest public transport provision in the form of buses, but research of this proved that local views about the difficulty of identifying timetables were sound. The rail line into Caithness provides a very limited service between Thurso and Wick: despite its being only a 26-minute journey, there are only three trains each way per day. Based on an Inverness-Thurso/Wick schedule, none of these relates to evening activities and performance end-times. As Arts Council, England noted in October 2002, ‘The most frequently cited reasons for not attending or visiting more arts and cultural events were the difficulty of finding time (48%) and cost (38%)'. Lack of transport was a reason for not attending for both those aged 16-24 and aged 75 and over. This is a further challenge, especially in terms of engaging young people and helping access for those with lower incomes and/or without cars. It is of course common in rural areas for people to make enormous efforts to ensure that they (and their children) can participate in those events and activities they wish to attend. However, accessible provision is crucial to widen the socio-economic profile of attenders. In the context of Caithness, this suggests that individual solutions for Thurso and Wick are appropriate.
4.4.4 A further barrier to attendance was the absence of effective co-ordinated marketing. One example of this was the absence of a fully comprehensive What’s On publication or adequate listings in local newspapers such as The John O’ Groats Journal. Caithness Arts News, produced by Caithness Arts, is seeking to develop such a publication and the present publication represents the result of positive energy and initiative. It must do so, however, on the basis of resources that cannot support an authoritative professional outcome. As has been noted, the admirable work being done to develop this publication is undermined by the difficulty sometimes found in obtaining details of forthcoming events to include in the publication. Another example of the problem of achieving effective marketing is the absence of co-ordinated publicity material for the wide range of interesting museums and heritage sites to be found in Caithness.
4.4.5 A final barrier to arts provision is that Caithness lacks at present a coherent overall vision of how the arts in society and that of Caithness in particular are inter-related, beneficial for the community and a key element in the future economic, physical and social health of the region. There are many individual practitioners and members of the public who can see the need for -- and potential of -- such a vision, but as yet there is no clear articulation of what that might be. An Arts Study cannot impose a vision on a community. A community must develop and sustain its own vision. There is, however, in the view of the Study team a groundswell of desire to articulate and support such a vision and to work with the local authority in developing and sustaining that vision in an interactive manner.