Rethinking creative expression in society

Scotland is on the cliff-edge of a cultural recession, argues Karen Anderson, chair of Wasps (Workshop & Artists Studio Provisions Scotland)

A person standing in front of a building
Karen Anderson FRSE, Chair, Wasps (Workshop & Artists Studio Provisions Scotland)

Being creative is an essential part of being human. Drawing, painting, sculpture and craft have allowed us to understand our predecessors’ beliefs, priorities and emotions through millennia.

At the global level, art is often treated as a commodity – a multi-million-dollar investment for the wealthy. However, actively being creative, from practicing hand skills to performing, whether amateur or professionally, serves as a ‘leveller’. Practice gives purpose and satisfaction ‘in the doing’, as well as providing insights and joy to those it touches.

Now when mental health is an increasingly critical call on our national health provision, creative practice is recognised for its potential to help wellbeing. Initiatives like social prescribing unlock the therapeutic power of coming together to express our feelings, create and make in our stressed times. The benefits to individuals extend further to much-needed positive impacts for our community life and our built heritage. Arts practice is often inspired by the locale and aspects of present community. In exploring, interpretating and articulating our common bonds, creative practice builds social connections and offers a way to combat isolation and encourages inclusion.

Transforming Scotland’s spaces: Workshop & Artists Studio Provisions Scotland (Wasps)

As an organisation providing space and supporting creativity across Scotland, Wasps (Workshop & Artists Studio Provisions Scotland) has grown over the last 40 years from studio provision in difficult-to-let buildings to being partners in the regeneration of places and historic buildings. Our properties are home to a wide range of creative practitioners including digital artists, strategic design practices, stained glass artists, furniture makers, and painters. The mix is an inspiring vision of what empty buildings can become when enlivened with creativity. Our buildings encourage the public to come to open studios, exhibitions, markets, art classes and, most recently, be involved in initiatives for health and inclusion.

Increasingly we are seeing collective and collaborative practice across different media and with those working in other fields. We see a generation who wish to contribute to the big challenges in society and the environment. Our art schools and colleges are places of innovation as well as expression, and across media – particularly in product design and strategic design thinking – practitioners contribute to better practice in business and public services.

If ever there was a time for thinking creatively around the potential of all we do, it is now. We need to focus our energies to effect the cultural change needed to ensure that we not only change our behaviour in the face of the climate and resources emergency, but that we offer positive options for individuals to help them cope with the impacts of artificial intelligence.

The economic benefits of the creative industries are understood, and Scotland is positioned as a small nation with a strong cultural USP, but the ongoing reductions in Creative Scotland’s real terms funding, coupled with the reduction in local authority grants, evidence the fact that creativity is very much a lesser priority in public priorities and spending.

We need to rethink and recognise the wider benefits creative practice brings to society and harness these for the future we want; changing attitudes towards the arts, making, and design; positioning them centrally in society, and valuing their core skills.

To begin we can develop the creativity of primary education at secondary level, re-setting educational goals, as too many young people are disengaged from education. For a more circular economy that re-uses, mends and is designed for disassembly we need different skills as well as attitudes, and in a screen-based, virtual working world we need creative practice more than ever. And we need to plan for it now.

Karen Anderson FRSE, Chair, Wasps (Workshop & Artists Studio Provisions Scotland); Visiting Professor, Scott Sutherland School of Architecture. Wasps is the UK’s largest provider of studio and creative spaces, providing artists, makers and creators with inspiring workplaces for over 40 years.

This article originally appeared in ReSourcE winter 2023.

The RSE’s blog series offers personal views on a variety of issues. These views are not those of the RSE and are intended to offer different perspectives on a range of current issues.

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