“Arts are a human right and must be accessible to all”

“Arts are a human right and must be accessible to all”

Published: 30/04/2018

– By Principal Jeffrey Sharkey


Moving from the other side of the Pond I was taken with Scotland’s appreciation and shared ownership of culture. I’ve relished the diverse audiences at the ballet, opera and concerts from pop to Proms at the Hydro and Glasgow Green. All in contrast to America where prestigious events and venues felt populated mainly by wealthier audiences.

I felt incredibly lucky to be a “New Scot” and to have joined a nation where culture was seen as a right and passion for everyone. I’ve met many amazingly talented Scots whose entry point to the arts was through teachers or schools. They populate ensembles, companies and theatres not only in Scotland but internationally. They do so thanks to an enviable system where access to arts was not dependent upon ability to pay. However, this system is under threat in many local authorities, having a detrimental effect on the cultural life of the nation and on the development and creative potential of our young people.

I don’t envy the choices councils must make. All I can do is argue with as much passion as words can convey that cutting access to the arts will damage the health of communities, reduce opportunities for building bridges and stifle the creative energy of young people just as our shared future requires more divergent, creative skills.

It is not right for parents and children to be given a limited choice or to have circumstances dictate that one art form is for them but another not. Yet this is exactly the situation some may face if access is granted to bands and traditional instruments but not strings and percussion. Or to theatre, but not dance.

Scotland, with its passion for equality of opportunity and deep sense of egalitarianism, deserves a system that makes early exploration of arts possible and then offers possibilities for progression right up to conservatoire level.

We may need different approaches. There are excellent examples of successful group teaching at entry levels that show excellence need not be sacrificed, and emerging technologies show that distance need not always be a barrier.However we tackle decline in provision, tackle it we must if our much-admired arts and arts education are to survive and thrive. We will do our part at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, but we cannot do it alone. We must combine our efforts in arts education with the knowledge that arts are a human right, a public good, a necessity and one of the key things that defines Scotland as a nation with something special to share with the world.


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