Peter Maxwell Davies Attacks Scottish Government's 'Absolute Ignorance' of the Arts
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
The Scotsman [Edinburgh]
By Senay Boztas
EDINBURGH, 26 July ó One of Scotland's most respected creative figures has launched a scathing attack on the Scottish Executive's policy on the arts.
Peter Maxwell Davies In an interview to be broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland today, the Orkney-based composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies hits out at Jack McConnell's arts strategy, labelling it "a jackboot in the face of Scottish culture".
Sir Peter accuses the First Minister and the Cabinet of "absolute ignorance" of cultural affairs, citing the recent £7 million restructuring of Scottish Opera as a prime example of the their "vicious" attitude towards the arts.
The composer laureate has previously slammed the plan to make the full-time chorus of the company redundant and implement a "dark" period of nine months in which no mainscale operas would be performed as "a travesty, a tragedy and a national disgrace".
In the interview for BBC Radio Scotland's Arts Show programme, he continues in the same strongly-worded vein, saying: "The Executive are absolutely ignorant and it's the only word for them.
"To think what they are spending on that Scottish Parliament building for themselves ó just the nail clippings of that would keep Scottish Opera going. Scottish Opera have done splendid work but have received a vicious kick, which is the last thing they deserved."
Sir Peter ó who has more than 300 compositions to his name, ranging from symphonies, operas and chamber music to film scores ó goes on to accuse the Executive of undervaluing Scotland's arts scene, and lacking a cohesive plan to improve matters within the country's creative sector.
"You think of every other civilised country in Europe and it at least has a national opera," he said. "I had hoped devolution would be a new dawn but that has been stamped on. A vicious jackboot has stamped on the face of Scottish culture."
Sir Peter's comments were endorsed by William Burdett Coutts, the artistic director at Edinburgh's Assembly Rooms, who said: "With regard to the Executive arts strategy, I think it is a case of, 'What arts policy?' "
Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish National Party's spokeswoman on culture, said Sir Peter's views were "certainly very robust". "However," she said, "I would say that the criticism is fair, although I would take issue with the criticism of the Executive's arts strategy because I don't think there's a strategy in the first place."
Support for Mr. McConnell and his culture minister, Frank McAveety, was forthcoming from the Edinburgh arts impresario Richard Demarco. However, he tempered his praise by calling for a more serious approach to promoting the arts in Scotland.
"Jack McConnell has shown a real commitment to the artistic community in Scotland. Having said that, this country, along with most others, suffers from an attitude problem where the arts are concerned," he said. "To this end, the Executive needs to consult more regularly with the people who shape the cultural face of Scotland."
A Scottish Executive spokesman said: "Ministers are committed to Scottish arts and culture. We have a national cultural strategy in place and record funding to help deliver it. The budget for arts and culture is at it highest level, from £120 million in 2000ñ01 to around £160 million for 2005ñ06. "We also have an independent cultural review group in place and look forward to its findings."
Sir Peter's attack coincides with the revelation that the performers' union Equity is set to ask all its members to boycott Scottish Opera. Equity representatives have agreed to issue instructions to thousands of performers asking them to refuse new work with the company in protest at the treatment of the chorus.
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