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Revealing the Vision Of Caithness Index Education Culture And Sport - Index

Education Culture & Sport
Highland Council - Caithness

Revealing the Vision of Caithness
An Arts Development Study of Caithness

5          Vision

 5.1       Need for a shared vision

5.1.1    It is clear that there is a strong perception amongst certain arts practitioners in Caithness of being neglected. There is, nonetheless, a strong desire in the local authority and art funders to support appropriate arts activities in Caithness as a part of sustaining and developing the vitality of the community and its economy. The divisions within the Caithness arts community, already referred to as a barrier to provision, exacerbate this apparent disjunction between some practitionersí perceptions and policy or funding bodies. There is evidence of difficulty in achieving a shared language in these areas. This is partly because of differing perspectives in understanding the processes of contemporary arts fund-raising and policy-making at local authority and national body level.

5.1.2    What is required is a shared vision that can provide a framework within which the present provision and the future needs of the arts in the communities of Caithness can be reviewed and developed. This is a key problem, because without that shared vision and the shared language and understanding that would express it, there is a danger of misunderstanding and negativity which will hamper development of the arts in the area.

5.2       Quality of existing provision

5.2.1    Much of what exists and is being achieved in Caithness is admirable by any standards. There is strong local self-reliance, a wide variety of arts activities, a firm sense of regional identity and evidence of high achievement. North Lands Creative Glass at Lybster, for example, is an example of international excellence. The work of Grey Coast Theatre Company, referred to in one of the case studies at paragraph 5.4.2, is stimulating and often innovative and shows an enviable questing after new and valuable ways of relating the work of the company to the larger community. There are poets, visual artists and craftspeople of international standard working in Caithness. Wick Players have twice in recent years won the highest accolade at UK national level. Members of Wick Pipe Band are frequently invited to travel the world. Thurso Live Music Association brings in artists of high quality to play for members of the community.

5.2.2    These activities fall within traditional categories of arts activity, but in Caithness there is also evidence of broader, more inclusive, arts activity. The arts activity of the Ormlie Social Inclusion Partnership in Thurso, for example, which has, inter alia, taken a group of young film-makers from the estate to prize-winning achievement in Bologna, is a shining example of what Caithness is capable of. Local residents have been excited by the films produced locally, a process which leads to social well being through the fostering of self esteem and self-validation. The engagement of the local community, particularly its young people, in finding and developing its own creativity leads to the further development of social responsibility. This may be fostered by something as simple as the fact that expensive equipment is used with great care because the end product is owned by the community. Such inclusive arts activity is reflected too in the plethora of activity in traditional and tradition-derived arts. These include a variety of musical modes from ceilidh, folk and jazz to Country and Western and brass band. The Northern Nashville Club in Thurso, as has already been noted, is in process of launching an international festival of Country and Western Music at Easter this year. Caithness Hospital has an imaginative link with a local school, Hillhead, which brings the creativity of young people together with the health needs of the community in an innovative and positive way.

5.2.3    All these examples bear witness to a thriving art sector in Caithness and one which already extends the definitions of art in a creative and fulfilling way. Yet, it was striking how often those engaged in existing initiatives were not aware of the work of others in this community of activity. It appears that very often artists, whether voluntary or professional, are used in Caithness to trying to address needs as they arise on their own. This self-reliance is in most ways admirable, but it does mean that possibilities for mutually beneficial co-operation may be missed and that what should be complementary activity comes to be seen as rivalry. Such over-self-reliance can also mean that the flexibility is missing that would allow the best use to be made of funding opportunities and of the expertise of officers in the funding and local authority system. This can lead to opportunities being missed either through inadvertence or a desire to make one's own way regardless. It is as part of a strategy for avoiding this danger that a community vision of the role of the arts is valuable. Any such vision, however, must draw on the values underlying the best of existing provision. Thus, it can offer not a set of externally derived platitudes, but an expression of the implicit vision already being expressed by members of the community through its arts.

5.3       Recommended vision

5.3.1   The following recommended vision is derived from extensive study of arts provision and aspiration in Caithness and detailed discussion of their values, achievements and ambitions with members of the local community. 

The arts in Caithness seek to achieve excellence as they arise from and serve the needs of the community and its culture. They draw on Caithness's uniqueness as a Scottish region and provide a means of fulfilling its spiritual and socio-economic needs. Through its arts, Caithness knows itself better and explores the vibrancy of its own special experience in an international context. Arts in Caithness celebrate difference and variety and offer the opportunity to be engaged and included to all, volunteer or professional. Arts provision is only possible with the support of community action and inter-agency co-operation. Co-operative and progressive arts provision is a signal of the health of Caithness society.

5.3.2    The next section of this report considers the current situation in Caithness under a range of art-form and activity headings. It will lead to recommendations as to how that current situation can be developed in these areas to further the achievement of such a vision. In anticipation of this section, it may help to consider briefly four recent case studies of enterprise in the arts in Caithness. These show evidence of developments in which the proposed vision is already being expressed in one way or another.