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Glass-House Chats: Spaces for Culture

Posted on 30 January 2024

Written by:

Louise Dennison

Our latest Chat of the season, Spaces for Culture, explored the role of culture in our places and also the value of cultural spaces, that both represent and support culture in all its forms. Joining us in this interesting Chat was a small but perfectly formed group of participants, who were all returning Chat contributors, from a diverse range of sectors.

Key Themes

We started this chat with a general discussion about the word ‘culture’ and it was interesting to see how each participant had a slightly different way of summarising and defining the word. After that we moved into the funding of arts and culture and who arts and culture is for, which then led on to the power and value of arts and culture and cultural heritage. 

Defining Culture

As we began our conversation it was clear that our group had a wide range of experiences and examples to draw from, which meant that the discussion around the definition of culture was a really interesting one. One participant spoke about the different levels of culture there are, from grassroots and community driven cultural events and experiences right across to international artists touring to large well known venues. There was also some conversation about access to culture and who doesn’t have easy access to it and how individual experience of culture will affect someone’s definition of the word. Following this one participant commented about how the confusion around what culture is, has caused some issues when facilitating collaborative and co-designed projects around cultural strategies. Another comment was how for some cultures it doesn’t mean arts but it can mean religious celebrations or sporting events.

There was also a fascinating discussion around making culture and the infrastructure needed to enable individuals to collaborate and make cultural things happen. There were discussions about how challenging it can be to resource collective ideas, which can sometimes be like ‘herding cats’ to make things happen. We also spoke of the ‘bureaucratic hoops’ which people have to jump through to make events happen.

Funding in arts and culture

Discussion then went on to how difficult gaining arts funding can be, in part because culture has such a wide remit and definition and of course, because of tightening budgets and the amount of funding available in general. Conversation focused on two areas under this theme, commercial arts vs grass roots and international vs hyperlocal and then led to comments around who art and culture is for.

One participant gave the example of where projects and strategies co-produced by local artists and grass-roots cultural organisations are being overlooked. When it comes to funding, policy makers need to consider the effects of discussions and plans made today around culture and what that means e for the future of that specific location. We also spoke about getting the balance right between hosting large-scale artistic interventions and events (such as city of culture) to inspire and excite communities, with supporting the local cultural ecosystem and championing local artists. This is something which, with decreasing council ability to fund local arts, is becoming a real challenge and council local arts funding is always the first thing to go when budget cuts are happening.

The power and value of arts and culture – Who is arts and culture for?

One of our participants spoke about when cultural festivals get it wrong.  She gave the example of how Hogmanay in Edinburgh, which was once a festival for local people to celebrate the New Year, has now become too commercial and a victim of its own success. She said that local people now avoid it as it’s too crowded and too expensive for them to attend. In comparison the Edinburgh festival, which was set up as a destination festival, is now looking to encourage local people to attend with reduced ticket prices, trying to increase access for those who live in the city year-round. This led us to talk about how expensive ticket prices for  the theatre, music gigs and art exhibitions have become. As cultural organisations are also being affected by rising prices, is it fair they pass on these costs to the public and are these increased prohibitive to access? The rising costs of ticket prices have also started to cause tensions with attending audiences, who feel they are owed more when they are paying so much for tickets.  

“What do people value and prioritise?” was a question asked to our group, in reference to people paying a lot of money for tickets to major football games. The group responded that ‘sport is culture’ and that moved us full circle to the varying definition of the word culture. 

Wrapping up

We finished the conversation feeling that we could and should continue to discuss and debate the role of culture, what culture means and the future challenges facing the cultural sector in general. It was heartening to hear about the collaborative projects and initiatives which are happening across the country but it was also disheartening to hear about the  challenges of arts and cultural funding which are so affected by current inflation rates, budget cuts and the cost of living crisis. However it’s worth noting that throughout history, the arts have proven to be resilient and in fact creatives are a great medium for reflection and action in times of crisis. So we look forward to seeing what our creatives and communities produce in response.