I made this work of 250 digitally printed posters for handing out at various events throughout Edinburgh on 1st April 2012 – in response to the Event Licensing plans across Scotland.
Tonight I attended the public meeting on Edinburgh City Council’s planned implementation of the Public Entertainment License regulations at Out of the Blue. It was encouraging to see such a range of creative people together in one place (which didn’t have free booze) to express their views on the plans. A lot of interesting things were said, and I wanted to respond at the event, but held my tongue. I have had a few thoughts about this.
Firstly, what is at stake with these proposals is the ability to express oneself freely and/or to enjoy culture, without the need to apply for a license (or a fee). As Neil Mulholland expertly pointed out, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 27 says;
“(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”
What this raises is whether the work that we (as artists, musicians, theatre directors, poets etc) make and look at, listen to, participate in, is actually part of the cultural life of the community. This would seem undoubtedly so. However, the licenses which are being debated relate to ‘Entertainment’. What is the difference? Why does it matter? Elements of culture could be deemed as entertainment, but culture is not always entertaining. Entertainment can be cultural, but does not have to be. They overlap, and in a situation like this, clear lines need to be drawn for people to operate with confidence and within the law. As my previous post explores, UNESCO has programmes to protect and celebrate ‘the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ – the fact that the word ‘intangible’ is present here illustrates the difficulty in defining culture. There is no such programme to protect ‘entertainment’.
We have to try to understand whether if an event charges a fee, it removes itself from the realm of ‘culture’ enough to become ‘entertainment’. As Kevin Williamson pointed out, Dumfries & Galloway have made a decision to clarify exactly what it deems to be entertainment in this sense. Quite how tanning salon’s fit into entertainment is beyond me, but nonetheless, at least they have clarified.
If a gallery charges you for entry, does it become a commercial activity? Are shows that you have to pay to see at the National Galleries commercial? If a gallery doesn’t charge for entry, but sells work (which may not be their main business activity) is it commercial?
HEALTH & SAFETY
Regarding public safety, which clearly has to be a consideration to me, if anything at all is ‘free’ you take your own chances with it, whether its food, transport, exhibitions, music, clothing or love. As soon as you make a payment for any of those things (I mean all of them), you are entitled to expect a certain level of safety and professionalism, which should allow you to relax. Anyone able to profit from these things, should also be able to provide evidence of their ability to do so safely. In my opinion, if a venue is able to be hired (for spontaneous gigs etc) then the venue should be able to ensure that they inform the hiring group of all the safety needs that must be met (if charging for tickets).
Clarification is also required on just exactly what makes an event ‘large scale’ as clearly, safety in general is harder to ensure when there are larger numbers of people, whether free or not.
COUNCIL SUPPORT FOR CULTURAL ACTIVITY
As the gentleman from Portobello (Big Things on the Beach) said, sometimes the grass-roots cultural life of Edinburgh survives and grows in spite of the council. Ash Reid from The Embassy also suggested that the Council could do more to support the arts by opening up their disused buildings and spaces to use by artists/musicians, in a way that Glasgow Council is seen to do. The comparisons between Edinburgh and Glasgow are constant, with Glasgow seen as a city which supports grass-roots arts and culture, and that this is reflected in the success of Glasgow based artists and musicians. No doubt the simplicity of this statement is misleading – there are many factors which effect and influence the ‘success’ of artists and musicians, and Edinburgh has and does produce ‘successful’ creative people – however, more could be done to encourage the development of creative people. As a couple of people mentioned, the analysis of these license proposals could/should offer an opportunity for the Council to look at its involvement in year round culture in the city, and to consider whether relationships could be improved, primarily by consulting the people involved in actively adding to the cultural depth of the city – which as this meeting proved, are a diverse, passionate and intelligent group.
In my experience of this city, in the last 10 years, at least in the visual arts and music, the depth and variety of grass roots activity has increased greatly – it would be a great shame for these proposals to put an end to that development, which they would no doubt begin to do. That said, I do believe that things will always continue to happen ‘under the radar’ – young people will not pay the fees, apply for licenses, will find their own new spaces and environments within which to express themselves, whether the council like it (and the way they choose to ‘express themselves’) or not. Is ‘under the radar’ enough though, for our capital city, in a potentially independent country? The answer should be clear.
The independence debate is an opportunity for this country to look at itself, and think about how it wants to be in the future, regardless of the result of a referendum. These license discussions should likewise be an opportunity for the city to consider how it thinks cultural life within it should develop – it cannot be good enough for the city to promote itself as an inspiring capital for only 1-2 months a year.
CREATIVE PEOPLE & ADMINISTRATION
Chloe Dear spoke well about her experience of the bureaucracy involved in public entertainment and its licenses – Matthew Young of Song by Toad spoke about his experiences of trying to develop his own record label. Both are people who have worked hard to learn how to increase and improve their cultural out-put. It did worry me however, that there were a few comments at the meeting about creative people and their inability to deal with ‘administration’. There is no reason why creative people should not be able to develop this as a skill within their oeuvre.
Obviously nobody wants to fill out forms, but their is no excuse for not working at that which may well be able to improve the work and chances that come your way. I am not saying that therefore, filling out forms for the license and added bureacracy should be welcomed – I don’t think we should have to apply for licenses at all – however, people in all walks of life have to deal with things they would rather not deal with, to make their life work – creative people are not different and views that seem to advocate inactivity by creative people due to administrative burdens are unhelpful, and only serve to reinforce the idea, popular in many areas, that creative people are difficult to work with, lazy and unwilling to work hard – all of which were clearly disputed by the work of many people present at the meeting.
The words of Councillor Rob Munn were generally encouraging, I think he said as much as he was able to say, without saying anything concrete. I don’t believe the Council wish to knowingly tax grass-roots cultural activity, but at the same time, I don’t think they are fully aware of its value, or what they could be doing to help it to develop further. I get the impression the Council are waiting for legal advice that tells them ‘Yes, you can say that any free event under X amount of people does not need a license’ – and though that seems like something simple, legal issues like this never are. Dumfries & Galloway council’s approach to the situation, while seemingly a straight forward answer, is an answer that is taking place in a different context to Edinburgh. On top of this, while encouraged by Glasgow City Council’s current stance on the license issue, it does seem to be a bit of a stop-gap. I think it is probably better that the approach of Edinburgh to ensure that they have everything legally in place before saying anything concrete goes ahead – in the meantime, even if we are asked to apply for licenses only until they sort it out – I would think the advice should be don’t bother.
In the end, there can be nothing to get in the way of all of us being able to “freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”