IT has been a dramatic and traumatic year for the arts in Scotland, with resignations from its key funding body, damning public letters, artistic rows, cultural controversies and crisis.

However, the nation's Culture Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, has opted to focus on the positive as 2012 comes to an end.

The past month has seen the controversial crisis-hit arts funding body Creative Scotland promise to reform, the resignation of its chief executive Andrew Dixon, as well as senior manager Venu Dhupa.

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When asked what her cultural highlights of the year had been, Ms Hyslop focused on a series of outstanding films, plays, exhibitions and performances.

She picked the Big Noise concert at the beginning of the London Olympics, the final concert of popular conductor Stephane Deneve, the Pixar movie Brave, the National Theatre of Scotland's one-man version of Macbeth and the NVA Speed of Light during the Edinburgh International Festival as her highlights of 2012, among others.

Of the Big Noise concert she said: "The sheer exuberance and virtuosity of the young musicians from Sistema Scotland and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela, with their dynamo of a conductor Gustavo Dudamel, enthralled the audience throughout a midsummer downpour and transformed a soggy evening into a night to remember."

Deneve's final concert with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra moved her to say it was "full of verve and emotion. The raucous fun of James Macmillan's Britannia was balanced by Ravel's sumptuous ballet score Daphnis and Chloe. And who can forget the spectacle of Stephane taking the podium after the interval in his kilt regalia?"

She has also picked A Streetcar Named Desire by Scottish Ballet – "a beautiful and emotionally powerful new interpretation with some moving and highly theatrical dance techniques and stunning visual moments" – as well as the European premiere of Brave.

Of the movie, she said: "The hugely successful fantasy animation by Disney-Pixar showed our Highland landscape at its glorious best.

"My family and I greatly enjoyed the tale of Merida's struggle against evil forces to secure her kingdom, brought to life by the voices of some of our world-renowned actors including Kelly Macdonald and Billy Connolly."

She raved about two very different Macbeths. "Alan Cumming's Macbeth was an extraordinary feat of performance, memory and control. His portrayal of madness embodied in the characters taken from Macbeth enthralled and disturbed audiences both here in Scotland and in New York," she said.

"I will never forget the Polish production [TR Warszawa at the Edinburgh International Festival].

"The setting, in the midst of a Middle Eastern conflict, was brutal and thought-provoking. The special effects and physicality of the production added a new dimension to the themes of violence, fear and ambition in this age-old classic."

She picked out the Wallace & Lubeck letters and tapestries exhibition at the Dovecote Studios in Edinburgh and the "vibrant hubbub" of the Edinburgh International Culture Summit.

Ms Hyslop was also impressed by the version of Tatyana at the EIF and NVA's Speed of Light project, which she described as "a stunning display in the darkness".

Finally she praised the concert by the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, in partnership with the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra, at the Greyfriars Kirk in August. "It was truly inspirational to witness the Kurdish, Iraqi and Scottish young musicians performing together in the gorgeous setting of Greyfriars Kirk," she said.

"The programme included pieces from European and Arabic composers, and was deeply moving. By bringing the orchestra to Scotland, I hope we helped to open doors for Iraqi musicians and secure further support for them from around the world."