Matt Baker’s post on a New Approach to Culture in Scotland asks – “perhaps it is time to ask a fundamental question about the way we do culture in Scotland? Could we consciously support a culture of participation and popular ownership of culture as a key part of our national toolkit towards a just transition from both Covid and Climate Change?”
Reading this article leads to reflections on what I’ve observed in Paisley regarding where and how cultural activities meet health and wellbeing activities. Can I answer this question based on the snapshot my observations provide? From this vantage point, Paisley has an entwined approach of supporting community empowerment and the cultural ecology; both before Covid-19 and in response to the pandemic (for examples see here and here) and, starting from the principle that culture is created and experienced by everyone.
The discussions about culture in the area of health and wellbeing are more about supporting people and communities to do things that are meaningful to them rather than the mass participation and professional production of culture. Core functions of human living organically – such as culture, health and wellbeing – emerge from this support. Connecting and intertwining at various stages of growth with local needs and global concerns and, a cultural ecology that has been sustained through these times of austerity and pandemic. Support for culture is about feeling that culture is for you, however you may describe it and even if you do not participate. This support requires a focus on practice (ranging from co-production to socially engaged practices) and, a focus on place. Paisley has been nationally recognised in both of these areas.
I observe that there is a sense that participation is best achieved through obliquity rather than as an outcome; such as people enthused by their encounter with a cultural activity or place, bringing along family and friends, or ways of working that have listening at the heart. The focus on attunement to people’s everyday lives and the local context is naturally sensitive to barriers to participation.* All of which leads to a cultural landscape possessed of the characteristics of cultural democracy – decentralised, accessible, given form by communities (Dickson, 1995) and, organically generating health and wellbeing.
The article proposes that we use this moment of resetting with COVID 19 to make a bold step as a country and, use culture as an enabler and connector across multiple sectors in our society. In Paisley, the step has been taken, and the commitment to culture has been made, as documented on this blog (here and here, for example). Reimagining is part of the conversation and national initiatives, such as those begun by Scotland’s Cultural Strategy, are being incorporated into this busy landscape.
I have observed that doing culture in Paisley is more than projects. There are multiple ways at multiple levels in which these projects evolve from individual connections to Paisley’s partnership approach, which uses culture to align strategies and activities and create roles and networks to connect different fields and agendas. There is an ambition of system change that goes beyond the article’s suggestion of building a wellbeing economy as Paisley’s cultural regeneration activities aim to transform more than the economic system into one that delivers social justice. Culture is to be part of a joined-up approach to social justice and a healthy planet as a means for long term change across all systems.
In summary, I do not feel there is an answer to the question posed at the start of this post. Instead, there is an ongoing process of answering. The principle that culture is created and experienced by everyone means there is a diversity of ways to do culture and a variety of possibilities for culture’s role in a just transition. Answers differ depending on points of view and vantage; evolving answers co-exist, sometimes in tension, sometimes catalysing each other. Therefore, the response to the initial question is an action rather than an answer. What role culture will play in the transition from COVID-19 in Paisley and Renfrewshire is a continual work in progress. In terms of health and wellbeing, Paisley’s cultural regeneration activities are at the stage of putting people in place to work across sectors, as are other key plans to respond and transition from COVID-19. How these and other activities develop, interact with each other and shape culture’s role in a just transition is an emerging process. The answer will not be found in Paisley, but this is where the action is.
* The Take a Part Method – Socially Engaged Art, Take a Part
Dickson, M. (ed.) (1995) Art with People. Sunderland: AN: Artist Information Company.