The Traditional Arts in Scotland: An emerging policy context

We are delighted that the following panel has been accepted and will take place  at the British Forum for Ethnomusicology's One-day conference this October, 'Ethnomusicology and Policy' at the International Centre for Music Studies (ICMuS) at Newcastle University. The conference committee is led by Dr Simon McKerrell

Our panel contirbution will focus on the emerging policy context for what have come to be collectively defined as the ‘traditional arts’ in Scotland – music, song, storytelling and dance. The panel will reflect on the process of narrative building in this context and outline the emergence of a national cultural policy of intrinsic worth for the traditional arts since 1993, culminating in the formation of the advocacy body Traditional Arts & Culture Scotland (TRACS) in 2012.

The current political and cultural moment in late modern Scotland and its transitioning relationship with the UK provides the backdrop for this discussion. Both globally and locally, cultural industries are progressively taking over traditional forms of creation and dissemination and bringing about changes in cultural practices.  In a UK context, at present, ‘culture’ is devolved to the Scottish parliament. Through Creative Scotland, the Scottish Government is seeking to implement a growth paradigm of development where the ‘creative industries’ and instrumentalism are central priorities in the policy discourse. This has given rise to a well-worn ‘discursive knot’ (Stephenson 2014) of various discourse strands clustering around the debate over instrumental versus intrinsic values.

It has been argued that the emergence of a lobby group and ring-fenced funding specifically for traditional arts is one of the only significant differences between Scottish cultural policy and that of the wider UK (McKerrell 2014). The argument for state support of the traditional arts has largely been an intrinsic one, emphasising both the national importance of indigenous material (often in contemporary form) as well as their value to collective, local and community life. Recent work by TRACS has assessed the opportunity to expand the audience, opportunities and reach of traditional arts by promoting these arts as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). Through local case studies, the panel will consider the extent to which ICH has the potential to be both a ‘pathway to local ownership of cultural resources and to creative inspiration’ (TRACS 2015). Looking to the future, the panel will explore the potential for interdisciplinary perspectives in ethnomusicology to contribute to a developing cultural policy for the traditional arts, with the wider goal of re-framing the value of arts and culture in local, national and international contexts. 

The three panel contributions are outlined below:

David Francis, Musician & Executive Officer of the Traditional Music Forum (TMF)
"An Emerging Policy Context for the Traditional Arts in Scotland"

The ‘traditional arts’ (generally considered to be music and song, dance and storytelling) began to enter the consideration of public funders in Scotland in the mid-80s, and their legitimacy as an object of public funding established in the early 90s. This paper looks at how the traditional arts began to develop an infrastructure of ‘education, information and advocacy’, the moves towards mainstreaming of the traditional arts in funding policy and their role in the development of cultural policy in Scotland. In particular the focus will be on the development of networked organisations such as the Traditional Music Forum and its umbrella body TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland).

Steve Byrne, Musician, Singer, Folklorist & Ethnologist
"Local Voices: Re-contextualising Digital Archive Resources"

Folklorist and musician Steve Byrne will present a case study of applied ethnomusicology in action. The organisation Local Voices aims to celebrate the traditions and diversity of local communities in the global age, taking in language, song, story, music and memory. This project is self-consciously ‘interventionist,’ delivering a variety of projects in schools and local communities across Scotland (most recently in Dundee and Angus), taking traditions back from the archives to give them new life in the places where they were originally collected. This work combines digitised archive resources – including sound recordings – which have started to become available online in recent years (such as Tobar an Dualchais/Kist O Riches), along with maps and other digitised print resources. Here Steve reflects on his practice and suggests recommendations for the development of an UNESCO ICH framework within the emerging policy context for the traditional arts in a Scottish context.  

Dr Mairi McFadyen, Ethnomusicologist, Cultural Activist & Teaching Research Assistant, Department of Celtic & Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh
"Hiding in Plain Sight is a Much Larger Story" 

This paper considers the possibilities for dialogue with and between ethnomusicology and cultural policy, with a focus on the opportunities presented by the cultural and political moment in contemporary Scotland. There has been a growing interest among ethnomusicologists to explore the embodied aspects of human musicality and the transformative power of the arts in everyday life. Within a growth paradigm of development where the ‘creative industries’ and instrumentalism are central priorities in cultural policy, there is not much space in the narrative for this vital dimension of cultural life.  Policy makers’ particular a priori interpretive perspectives, combined with actions that flow from them, create implicit categories that include a host of binaries, concepts and assumptions. While it can be argued that the sort of implicit distinctions made are a pragmatic necessity of measurement to justify economic support, in so doing, negative effects are often overlooked. That is to say that policy rhetoric often disguises a much larger narrative that is ‘hiding in plain sight’ (Goldbard 2012). As DeNora (2003) has concluded, referring specifically to music, the emergent properties of culture are ‘affordances’ for world-making activity - with culture seen as resource for action, motivation, thought, and imagination. Activities such as ‘musicking’ (Small 2011) afford pre-rational openings to embodied and ethical ways of knowing and being that can be discovered through ethnomusicological research. Drawing upon on previous interdisciplinary research in the traditional arts - a study of the embodied aesthetic experience of traditional song in a Scottish context, bringing together perspectives from ecology, phenomenology, narratology and embodied cognition (McFadyen 2012) – this paper will argue that such perspectives from ethnomusicology might help enlarge policy discourse and help create an arts policy paradigm in which the full spectrum of cultural possibilities are actively encouraged.


Conference Summary

Ethnomusicology holds an extended and substantial history of engagement with, and contribution to, public policy. This conference acknowledges that history, and points to the growing role ethnomusicology plays in influencing how public policies are considered, constructed and revised. It emphasises the potentials and challenges in applied ethnomusicology, and encourages further dialogue around how ethnomusicology contributes to the public good. Ethnomusicologists have made substantive contributions to policy in areas such as Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), archiving and curation, cultural policy and the state, cultural tourism, music education, social enterprise, music and conflict, cultural and economic sustainability, world music representation and education, music and minorities, and the economics and instrumental efficacy of the arts at all levels of governance. Many ethnomusicologists who work in this area and in the public sector also have hybrid identities, and often publish in sociological and anthropological journals and author policy reports. We intend to explore the character of policy-focused ethnomusicology and its disciplinary position within the broader arts and humanities. Ethnomusicology has been more firmly embedded in public policy in the North American context and this conference provides an opportunity to discuss the similarities and differences with that of the UK and EU policy environments, and how these might be improved in the future. Therefore we are interested in opening up a debate about how policy relates both to ethnomusicological methods, interdisciplinary and international ethnomusicology as well as the ethnomusicologist’s place in public sector and government. We hope also to discuss these issues with a view to expanding where and how the next generation of ethnomusicologists might work, be trained, and how the academy should be responding to this challenge today.