Gaelic Arts Futures
Pròiseact nan Ealain / The National Gaelic Arts Agency recently announced that they are winding up, due to the withdrawal of funding from Bòrd na Gàidhlig, having lost core funding from Creative Scotland a few years previously. This article was originally publish in gaelic here.
PnE played a crucial role in the first wave of Gaelic language revival from the late 80s, something that was urgently needed and they were responsible for ground-breaking cross art form projects and, latterly, a programme of community and professional drama. They lit a series of artistic fires in the early years and against the odds drove through important international projects with a keen strategic eye. Ultimately though, they were failed by a national infrastructure that hasn’t been able to elevate Gaelic Arts to an equal footing within the debate around language acquisition and survival.
With PnE’s demise it’s hard to resist feelings that the position of Gaelic arts, culture, and thereby the Gaelic language, is on a knife’s edge. Within the current austerity context, acutely felt last week with the £1m cut imposed on MG ALBA (no doubt a UK government’s two fingers to a post NO-voting Scotland). Meanwhile here in Scotland, Gaelic education, governmental bodies and development agencies face their own crossroads with significant challenges due to unfold in the next 12 months. All of which is further exacerbated by a hilarious and reactionary media, hell bent on talking about Gaelic road-sign fiascos and proportionality of local authority Gaelic budgets.
So in these difficult times, cue the artists…. poets, singers, visual artists, dancers, writers, dramatists and musician… unite! Bring on a mix of satirists challenging the BBC or Bòrd na Gàidhlig; the songwriters with new words about Gaelic’s place in the future of a shared history of contemporary Scotland; the animators to assert the right to immersive GME anywhere in Scotland; the public artworks underpinning the authentic positioning of Gaelic place-names across Scotland; the poets deconstructing language survival not as a fight for a series of symbols and accents but a fight for an identity and right to a cultural expression, articulating their human experience amassed over 1000 years…Alas, the stage is nearly empty.
Is it because the Gaels have never really formed a protest guerrilla wing? Or empowered our wonderful artists to be provocateurs? David Crystal, the world leader in minority languages, would argue that a language’s death cannot be halted unless artists take the language seriously. Art works at less obvious and deeper levels, brining issues to life in the imagination and subconscious. It serves as an effective antidote to ineffective politicians and is a catalyst for attitudinal change. It might be too big a leap, but the demise of PnE and its’ history might give us an understanding of where we now need to go to revitalise the Gaelic Arts sector.
Is it because the Gaels have never really formed a protest guerrilla wing? Or empowered our wonderful artists to be provocateurs? David Crystal, the world leader in minority languages, would argue that a language’s death cannot be halted unless artists take the language seriously. Art works at less obvious and deeper levels, brining issues to life in the imagination and subconscious.
Firstly National in the title of an arts organisation is problematic. It implicitly suggests a national representation, an authority to speak for all, an exemplar in the field. Funders are complicit in this. One might argue that national status is essential to articulate a strong cultural identity in a particular field as in, for example, the National Theatre of Scotland. Maybe without it we are somehow perceived as less? In a Gaelic context, it certainly suggests a confidence and infrastructure which is helpful in the earlier years.
Around the mid-noughties three new developments took hold. Firstly, PnE’s hard work paid off and various organisations and projects started taking an independent (of PnE) share in the Gaelic Arts community. Then, in light of the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, charged with implementing the Act, were established and the implications of this new body for the arts started to unfold. Also, the then Scottish Arts Council with an increased drive to develop Gaelic/Scots arts across Scotland took a closer interrogative interest in national Gaelic Arts. It was at that point an opportunity to reinvent National Gaelic Arts in response to this emerging new landscape was missed. Within the new governmental structure there was a gap for Gaelic Arts and there still is. Instead the revolutionaries became the establishment. PnE didn’t rebrand but moved to a producing company, competing for the same funds as artists and organisations alike, with no developmental or funding remit, PnE’s purpose was no longer understood and certainly not as ‘the’ or ‘national’ Gaelic Arts Agency – that is not a reflection on the quality of their work.
It can’t be forgotten that arts organisations lose funding all the time. Who would have thought that 7:84 would go out of existence or The Arches, the hot bed of emerging art in Glasgow, would close down? But they have and still great art is created in Scotland – with the right infrastructure the same could happen for Gaelic Art but it’s certainly not secure. PnE’s lost funding must be re-diverted to Gaelic Arts – to something not unlike the NTS’s structure protected by Government funding, an Arts for Acquisition ‘Tsar’. So in itself, PnE’s fate could be seen as part of a healthy ecology where survival is only possible with a willingness and ability to change. Any resistance to evolve over the years shouldn’t be dumped at PnE’s doorstep. Visionaries within the stakeholder cohorts, were and still are, few and far between.
We owe PnE, their staff and board, past and present, a collective thanks. Their greatest legacy in my opinion – Leabhar Mòr na Gàidhlig which has been on my coffee table for the last 10 years, the pages well fingered, with the promise of daily inspiration for many years to come.