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Gwilym Gibbons : The Arts Matter

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As theatre lovers across Perthshire and wider Scotland patiently await the reopening of the restored and redeveloped Perth Theatre in late 2017, Horsecross Arts has reached out to local people inviting them to join in the fundraising through their #PlayingMyPart campaign.  This final push to raise £1.5m to equip the new theatre promises opportunities to play a starring role in the upcoming campaign as well as asking us all to throw a couple of quid in the pot.

Arts fundraising is an interesting topic; in an age where austerity has gripped us harder than many will remember, is giving your hard-earned cash to dance, theatre, song and festival a worthwhile cause? And will it benefit the masses or an elite few at the top?

I read an interview with Noel Gallagher recently in which he talked about the lack of opportunities for young working class kids to access the arts.  The same sentiment had been expressed by Julie Walters in an interview with The Times just a short while before.  

It got me to thinking about the role the Arts play here in the Small City and whether there is room for can-shaking for a theatre alongside the foodbanks and cancer research tins.   I caught up with Gwilym Gibbons, Chief Executive of Horsecross Arts over a coffee in Perth Concert Hall. His big #PerthLoveFest topic was just how important are ‘The Arts’ for the people of Perth today?

Gwilym Gibbons's #PerthLoveFest : Why The Arts Matter

ARTS MATTER Kids Trapeze“It’s an interesting question and one we need to ask all the time. Perth Concert Hall celebrated ten years last September and if you look at the level of investment made at the time and what it was thought we would get in return, you’ll find that things were hugely underestimated.

When you consider the impact that Perth Concert Hall had on the Arts in Scotland it is staggering.  It had sceptics from the start; building at this scale in a city the size of Perth seemed an unlikely decision but it has evolved into a brilliant facility and is now considered to be one of the best in Scotland.

People like to talk in numbers - how much it costs, how many people come through the doors – and this is important of course, but for me there is something magical about people gathering together for an experience.  Horsecross has allowed us to create a heart, a place where people can connect in a very real way with where they live.  That sense of human contact that individuals engage in when they participate in the Arts pulls them away from computers and phones and brings us together as people again.

Creating space for this to happen is hugely important; human contact brings a sense of happiness to people and there has been evidence to prove that participating in the Arts, either as an audience member or by taking part, has a positive effect on mental and physical wellbeing.   What the study showed was that regular visits to theatre, live music, films and exhibitions, made it less likely that you would get a cold or flu and more likely that you would enjoy a general sense of happiness.

And I like being in the creating happiness business.

Arts Matter Adult Choir

For me, it’s really important that we are inclusive and reach out to everyone. We have a very extensive creative learning programme that brings opportunities for people to get involved and become part of the story. Last year we won the Chamber of Commerce Star Award for Commitment to the Community. The team who run our community, education and outreach syllabus do tremendous work.

It's not an add-on or token gesture; it's at heart of everything we do. Each year they work relentlessly to raise funds from generous individuals, local companies, trusts and foundations to deliver our diverse ‘Join In’ programme to more than 20,000 individuals living across Perthshire.

The programme offers young people, adults, people with learning or physical difficulties, and those who are the most vulnerable, opportunities they may not get elsewhere, opportunities that can and do have life changing benefits. So, we get out and work with people living in rural parts of Perthshire which are typically areas suffering from poverty, seasonality or higher levels of unemployment. 

ARTS MATTER kidsWe also go into areas where arts provision is limited or absent. It might surprise you to know that there are areas in Perth which rank in the top 15% of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. 

We can deliver opportunities for young people who would never be otherwise exposed to the Arts and allow them to get involved; you never know who we’re inspiring with projects like this.

Back when I was starting out there was a different approach to things. That interview with Noel Gallagher you refer to was right.  There was a boom for the creative industries because people were able to hone their craft while claiming dole or enterprise allowance.  That’s disappeared and there is a lack of access points for those who can’t support themselves while they develop.  It is so important that projects like ours are there to fill the gaps and give people access to the creative industries. 

If we want a diverse Arts world, if we want it to reflect what’s out there in the real world then we have to support this cause.   The whole journey is here for people to take but we have to create the pathway to ensure we attract as diverse a group of people of as possible into creating TV, theatre, art and music.  If we don’t do that then it ceases to work, we fail to connect to the audience.    

ARTS MATTER Ewan McGregorThis community involvement goes way back, pre-Horsecross days.  Perth Youth Theatre celebrates 50 years next year and boasts Ewan McGregor as a past member.   In fact loads of big theatre names honed their craft at Perth Theatre; as a traditional rep it was a rite of passage for many actors and directors.

What’s interesting is just how much Perth has placed Arts in the heart of its community.  Perth Festival of the Arts is 45 years old this year, making it one of the UK’s longest running festivals and although it’s not a Horsecross project, it is an amazing example of how much the people of Perth love the creative side of life.  Our own Southern Fried Festival turns nine this year; it has grown massively since it started and won a Scottish Event Award award in 2014 as Scotland’s Best Small Festival.  It’s on the brink of growing again and I genuinely believe it just wouldn’t have worked anywhere else other than Perth. 

You look at the audiences we enjoy and there is a core of people who are here continuously. There is a consistency to the quality and a collective ambition for Horsecross to do well.  Although the bulk of people who come are within a half hour of Perth we do pull in from further afield. We are within perfect travelling distance for a Scottish audience – although I do wish the people of Edinburgh and Glasgow would realise that more!

ARTS MATTER Kids BoyWe’re really busy at the moment and we’re all looking forward to Perth Theatre reopening so we can spread the demands and do more programming across both.  I think we’ve adapted really well during the refurb but there is something magical about a play in Perth Theatre - although we have staged the large scale musicals perfectly here at the Concert Hall and continue to take a drama programme out and about to alternative venues.

I’m especially excited about Perth becoming a hub for fresh theatre, for playwrights and organisations to join in and co-produce with us, developing new ideas and then rolling them out into a Scottish tour.  This will all be possible and will allow us to build the profile of our city and our work and that’s great for everyone.  The night time economy is better when the Arts are in full thrust. Pubs and restaurants are busier and people are happier to be part of a city that is bustling and full of life and I believe that’s part of our role here.

The pulling together of multiple venues, businesses and arts is what makes a city’s heart beat; hearing a band play, seeing a film, chilling out in dark room and watching a play… all of it matters. And we will continue to do this, to make theatre, to create energy and bring happiness to the people around us.”

*****

I am a lover of the Arts.  I believe music, dance, theatre and song bring a joy and happiness to everyone in a community.  These things touch us in ways we don’t even realise or understand.  One of the very best things I saw on stage last year was DIY Rockshop opening the stage at the Southern Fried Festival.  Show me where a bunch of kids led by a slightly bonkers, single minded, passionate musician can open an award-winning national festival and I will show you Perth. 

ARTS MATTER DIY Rockshop

Gwilym is right - the Arts matter and his #PerthLoveFest is something we can all get behind. As a working class girl who grew up on a council estate in the seventies I am passionate in my belief that the Arts should belong to all of us.  We spent hours putting on shows in our back-garden, dancing and listening to music. I whiled away many a rainy day, sunny afternoon and late night under the duvet reading the classics and through all of this I grew up with a love of the creative side of life.  

My own son was a member of Perth Youth Theatre for four years (which at £90 a year was the cheapest hobby he had!) and I am convinced it contributed to his own gung-ho attitude, love of life and place at Glasgow School of Art. 

ARTS MATTER Gwilym LouisaThe Arts bring joy to all; they are here for everyone. For your children, for the kid who loves to sing, for the budding actors and stage designers, for lovers of big concerts and bold, modern playwrights. 

Get involved people - #PlayingMyPart belongs to you.  Find out more on Horsecross >>>