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“Time to Shine” Youth Arts Strategy

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 14th May 2014.

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Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

I, too, welcome the “Time to Shine” strategy, which is putting young people at the heart of Scotland’s creative future. I declare an interest, in that I have a daughter who benefited from the youth music initiative, through the Voice Factory choir in Glasgow.

I am well aware of the difference that the youth music initiative has made to the lives of hundreds of young people across the country, whatever their background. I praise that work and the new commitment to the youth music initiative. The initiative was started by the previous Administration, for which I congratulate it.

I will talk about access for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The youth music initiative does not charge a fee. Although my daughter probably would have had the opportunity anyway, a lot of people get access to the arts through the initiative because it is free. However, many other arts offerings charge.

We have got round that problem in Dumfries through a self-funding organisation called the Electric Theatre, which has a very popular adult community choir and adult theatre. There are charges, but the fees subsidise the main activities for children and young people in the youth theatre. That is important.

I think that it was Patricia Ferguson who mentioned that if young people are put at the centre of the arts, we sometimes get unusual approaches to big topics. The example that she mentioned was rap being used to debate the referendum. Last year, a Dumfries youth theatre and Electric Theatre workshop resulted in a collaboration on an extraordinary piece of physical theatre, “Blood Orange”, that was commissioned by the environmental arts festival Scotland, which is based in the region. Some MSPs who attend the cross-party group on culture, which I co-convene, will have seen an extract from “Blood Orange” performed in the Parliament. Those who missed it will get the chance to catch it at the Edinburgh fringe.

“Blood Orange” is a very good illustration of young people taking an unusual approach to a big subject because the work was inspired, if that is the right word, by experience of a racist march held by the English Defence League—or the Scottish Defence League—in Dumfries in early 2013. The local trades council and the Educational Institute of Scotland teachers union organised a very effective cross-party and cross-community protest against the racist march, and the protest attracted many of the young people from the theatre who were at the time performing another play, which involved super heroes. They donned their super hero Lycra outfits and formed what was a very colourful front line in the fight against fascism—it was probably the first of its kind, and guaranteed great coverage in the local paper.

More seriously, the experience had a real effect on the young people, who went away and work shopped “Blood Orange”, which is a very serious and raw piece of theatre concerning the insidious nature of racism and how it can feed off envy and poverty. The other great thing about the work was that they held it in the local nightclub—Chancers is a place where young people in the town feel comfortable seeing a piece of theatre.

Patricia Ferguson also mentioned the need to concentrate on all parts of the country, and I agree. I am very pleased that, this year, the Scottish Youth Theatre is holding one of its summer courses for young people in Dumfries—it is also holding courses in Glasgow and Aberdeen. I praise it for that. I also praise the creation, as part of the youth arts strategy, of the youth arts hubs around the country that the cabinet secretary mentioned. I would have liked one of the hubs to be in Dumfries. The most southerly hub is in Ayr—I hope that the door is not completely closed, because the cabinet secretary knows that Dumfries is a Scottish leader in youth arts in terms of finding ways to pull into the arts young people who would otherwise be marginalised.