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Education Culture & Sport
Highland Council - Caithness
Vision of Caithness
3.2 The Digital Age
3.2.1 Some people question whether access to the arts and participation in arts activities will change in the digital age. There are now more opportunities for entertainment in the home than ever before, many involving the virtual community through the Internet. There are more television channels and a greater choice of programmes to watch -- hundreds at any one time -- and ‘time shifting’, means that chosen programmes can be saved and watched at any time to the convenience of the viewer. Yet television viewing is reducing. Many people engage with the Internet at home as another broadcasting medium and spend hours surfing. This is essentially a solo activity. Many young people use games consoles and either together or remotely engage in competitive gaming. Some artists use digital media as their creative outlet, from manipulating images to designing virtual environments and electronic experiences. There is no doubt that this offers a whole new dimension and increase in the choice of entertainment opportunities.
3.2.2 At the same time, there is an apparent increased interest in socialising together and experiencing events collectively. It is of note that all over the world, even when their country’s team was not playing, people chose to watch some games in the 2002 Football World Cup on large projection screens in town squares instead of in their own homes, in order to experience the game collectively. Despite the early availability of major films on video and now DVD, attendance at cinemas in the UK is at record levels.
3.2.3 The performing arts of course have always relied on a degree of inter-action between artists and audience, and for the foreseeable future there is no prospect of this changing. Holograms have been used in performance, but at the expense of inter-action. The collective experience is part of the enjoyment. Favourite pieces of music by a favoured performer can raise the hairs on the back of the neck heard on CD, but the experience is greatly increased heard live in an audience.
3.2.4 The Visual Arts might be thought to be susceptible to digitisation. There is no doubt that the ‘virtual gallery’ can give more people a chance to view work or explore a collection or create their own ‘exhibition’. However, this is at the expense of the real experience, removing the third dimension, and the ability to appreciate texture, size and scale, and sheer presence. Many artists working in digital media seek ways to achieve broadcast access to the wider population.
3.2.5 The conclusion must be that while digital media offer an extension of opportunities and arts practice, they cannot replace most arts activities. For centuries now we have continued to enjoy and explore the arts from the past, and many amateurs enjoy to the full their recreation of those experiences. Watching or listening to a recording is no substitute. The community also benefits from the coming together which an audience, or a group of attenders at a gallery, represents, with the chance to socialise, debate and discuss. Cultures meet; people meet; society coheres.
3.3 U.K. research and its economic implications for Caithness
3.3.1 The source for U.K. statistics used in this report is the Target Group Index, a consumer survey conducted with over 25,000 adults each year throughout Britain, in every district, on the basis of socio-economic profile. Because it is conducted every year and has such a large sample it is possible to track tastes, habits, and patterns of consumption. The Target Group Index also analyses the kinds of people who attend arts events. Attendance is proportionately higher from within social grades A and B, and those whose age of completing education is over 17. These statistics, however, should not be misread: the largest group of attenders comes from social classes C1, C2 and DE, which form the majority of the population. It is clear that nationally the arts are highly popular. The evidence, as of October 2002, is that 79% of adults had attended arts and cultural events in the last year. The most widely attended events were plays or dramas, musicals, carnival, street arts or circus, and art, photography or sculpture exhibitions. Nationally, 62% said they would be interested in attending or visiting more arts and cultural events if they could. Further, the overall figures are even more impressive: almost nine out of ten people had participated in an arts activity in the last year. Nine per cent of the overall sample, for example, had taken a class or lesson in the 12 months prior to interview. Clearly the arts are not tangential to individual and community life and well being, but on the hard evidence central.
3.3.2 Continuing research into what people do in their leisure time has shown, considering performance arts alone as an example, that over 46.7% of the population attend theatre (plays, dance, ballet, opera) concerts (jazz & classical music) or visit exhibitions. Out of this high proportion, nearly 37% go to the theatre and one fifth of the population visit art galleries. These events do not have to take place in formal venues, but are frequently enjoyed in a wide variety of venues in the community including school, church and village halls. Just over half attend at least twice a year. These are UK averages.
3.3.3 The arts are also a key element in tourism and economic development. The fact that arts and entertainment provision may need subsidy may give an altogether mistaken impression of their economic importance. In terms of the local economy, research has consistently demonstrated that arts and entertainment facilities make a positive economic contribution. As long ago as the 1970s researchers in the field of the arts, entertainment and tourism began to analyse what became known as the ‘multiplier effect’. Stated briefly, this is a process through which expenditure continues to circulate in an area and to generate further economic activity. A study commissioned by the English Tourist Board examined a number of projects that had received assistance from public funds. The results of the study demonstrated that for every £1 spent by attenders, between £4.75 and £8.75 was spent elsewhere in the area (for example on eating and shopping), so providing a multiplier of between 5:1 and 9:1.
3.3.4 Given the economic development needs of Caithness, development of arts provision will also have a hidden, but no less real, effect on the level of economic activity and employment. The arts and entertainment are an effective industry as far as job creation is concerned. John Myerscough’s 1988 study, The Economic Importance of the Arts in Britain, based on detailed research in three regions, shows that, for every arts job created, up to 2.8 jobs were created in the community at large. The study also demonstrated that turnover of £100,000 could create between 13 and 19 jobs in the community.
3.3.5 Arts and entertainment facilities also have a role in attracting business. In the twentieth-first century, industry and economic activity is, quite literally, on the move. This is a particularly important factor in an area of currently declining and ageing population such as Caithness, which needs to attract and retain an active working population. New small business enterprises are constantly forming and now with broadband and the Internet can be located anywhere. Major organisations are constantly relocating all or part of their enterprises. Factories and offices are closed down and moved to more favourable sites. At the highest level, this results in competition for jobs between major European centres and the third world. There is also cut-throat competition between centres in the United Kingdom. Recent research has shown that the decision to re-locate is not taken for purely economic reasons. Myerscough’s research demonstrated that:
• Businesses are keen to operate in a district with a dynamic image.
• Factors such as cheap labour are no longer as centrally important as they were in decisions on where to locate. Instead, a greater emphasis was placed on amenity issues.
• A strong pattern of arts activities is an important factor in assisting recruitment of managers and other senior staff or in retaining such staff after relocation.
• Leaders of the business community stressed the importance of operating from a ‘good address’. Some saw the development of the arts as one means of stimulating local economic development and there was a strong feeling that the state of the arts was a good indicator of the overall vitality of the region.
• Public officials and businessmen were agreed that decision takers are strongly influenced by quality of life factors and that the arts feature prominently in this area.
• Arts facilities are taking an increasingly prominent place in local authorities’ economic development promotional materials.
• Strong cultural facilities are important to managers at all levels - 74 percent of those questioned regarded the availability of facilities such as theatres as being important elements in deciding where to live and work. Indeed, of the factors that contributed to the enjoyment of an area, the arts came second only to access to pleasant countryside.
3.3.6 In the past, the arts have been seen as a luxury to be funded at the end of the list of priorities. Now, against the background of such evidence, their importance is now seen to be not only intrinsic, but as a key means of developing community well being and regeneration and supporting economic development. The arts are, of course, important for their fundamental contribution to the creation of the well of new ideas that develops humanity and it relationship to its environment, to education in its broadest, life-long, sense and to the quality of life itself. At least as important, however, is their significance in contributing to economic and tourism development, job creation and the attraction of inward investment, which should not be ignored. The arts explore the truth about life; in doing so, they inevitably are a key part of community development. Local authorities and funding bodies invest in the arts for a variety of substantial benefits. Special arguments for developing the arts in each community include:
Such issues will be touched on later in this report with regard both to present provision and future potential in Caithness. For now, it will be recognised that arts provision is key to the creation of a magnet to bring people to and keep them in Caithness. There was evidence of shortage of key staff in the area and a related recruitment problem, perhaps because of perceived remoteness. As part of the social infrastructure required to counteract this, the arts are a key player.
3.3.7 A further dimension of some importance, though perhaps not in itself of such a high one in Caithness at present, given its geography, lies in the area of everyday economic activity. Shopping is quoted by many people as a leisure activity these days, but most people want more than this, and to the reasons for making a shopping trip can be added opportunities to attend arts and entertainment events, look at an exhibition or see a film. If arts and entertainment facilities are alive, open all day, a welcoming facility in a town, it will increase the attractiveness of that town to visitors, shoppers and residents. Twenty-first century developers see the need for arts and entertainment facilities to bring a ‘soul’ to shopping. Given this context, what may be of more importance for Caithness is the link between such arts and leisure provision and tourism.
3.3.8 A key issue for Caithness is the attraction and retention of tourism income as tourists pass through on their way to and from the Orkneys. Related to this is the need to develop Caithness as a tourist destination in itself. Arts can offer added value and attraction to the tourist in a way that will be addressed in some detail later in the report. This can certainly help develop Caithness’s undoubted potential as a tourist destination. Visitors regularly point out that when choosing where to visit they are looking at the range of activities and opportunities available. While there may be only a few key factors, there is a critical mass of provision that will trigger their choice. The chance to attend arts and entertainment events, look at an exhibition or enjoy an arts or heritage-based tourist destination can offer valued ‘out-of-home’ opportunities.
3.3.9 From all this evidence it is clear that the development of the arts and entertainment in Caithness will enable local residents to achieve better access to arts and entertainment. This, in turn, will build the quality of life for everyone in the community, and encourage people to spend their money in support of local activities. Many already participate in the arts on a regular basis and need good access to appropriate local facilities to do so: many local groups and societies meet weekly for rehearsals, practices or classes. Further, young people and the elderly traditionally need to seek their entertainment nearer home so that it is better to make provision accessible locally than expect them to travel outside the district, an issue addressed in the next section of this report. Such arts development will have a clear impact on economic development, including the exploitation of Caithness’s tourism potential.
3.3.10 For all the reasons set out above, while this Arts Development Study will address the needs and wants of the resident community of Caithness, it will also point to many other benefits. During the Study, many expressed concerns about the external image of Caithness, and the impact this might have on the development of the area. Seen by many as isolated and remote, as not much more than an area to be travelled through to reach John O’Groats or the ferries to Orkney, its special character and values are not revealed. Developing the provision of the arts could be the major factor to affect this. The key questions are ‘What could Caithness have?’ and ‘What should Caithness have?’ These questions are explored in the following sections, looking at what a district the size and character of Caithness could support, and what would be appropriate in the context of existing provision accessible to the resident population.