By Alistair Grant

CULTURAL venues and initiatives outside of Scotland’s central belt are “at risk of being overlooked” as they struggle to stay afloat during the coronavirus crisis, it has been warned.

DG Unlimited, a membership organisation for Dumfries and Galloway’s creative sector, said a “significant minority” of the population live in island and rural locations.

It said it would be an “irreparable travesty” if the practitioners, technicians and freelancers who make up the backbone of Scotland’s cultural scene receive little or no benefit from emergency funding. 

The body suggested an “art out to help out” scheme – similar to the recent Eat Out to Help Out initiative from the UK Government – to help businesses survive the crisis.

The Scottish Government said it is acutely aware of the devastating impact of the pandemic on the cultural sector across Scotland

DG Unlimited has more than 470 members and works with leading arts events such as Wigtown Book Festival. 

In written evidence to Holyrood’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, it said the impact of Covid-19 on the cultural and creative industries will be long-term. 

The organisation highlighted two main concerns, the first being the “equitable distribution of the economic support package”. 

It said freelancers, artists and volunteers must not be forgotten. 

The second is that “cultural infrastructure beyond the central belt is at risk of being overlooked”. 

The body said: “The principle of an ‘elastic economy’ does not apply and the sector will not bounce back overnight once the ‘new normal’ has been established. 

“The challenge for Dumfries and Galloway is compounded by the fact that pre-pandemic we were struggling already. 

“Local authority spend per head on culture and related services places our region the sixth lowest in Scotland at £74.461. 

“Out of 121 organisations within Creative Scotland’s regular funding network there are only two from Dumfries and Galloway and just three from across the whole of South of Scotland.”

It added: “We acknowledge the need to shore up the jewels in the crown, the so called ‘big hitters’ of Scotland’s cultural infrastructure. 

“However, there is a real risk that the multitude of creative practitioners, technicians and freelancers that are the real backbone of Scotland’s cultural identity will receive very little or no benefit from the emergency economic support package. This would be an irreparable travesty.

“There is little point having venues, galleries and arts centres if we don’t have the creative workforce to produce and deliver the nation’s cultural products and experiences.

“The geography of Scotland means that the majority of the population live within a relatively small concentrated area – the central belt. 

“However, the significant minority of our population live in island and rural locations that make up the majority of our land mass.”

DG Unlimited said the rural and island cultural infrastructure must not be overlooked. It highlighted the impact of an economic recession on disposable income and consumer confidence, and suggested an “art out to help out scheme” could help boost the creative sector. 

The organisation said it believes there will be a need for further government intervention to “safeguard the cultural identity and reputation of Scotland”. 

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are acutely aware of the devastating impact this pandemic has had on the culture sector across Scotland. 

“We want to support our cultural institutions and infrastructure, including venues and those who work in the sector, wherever they are based in Scotland.

“At the outset of the pandemic we acted quickly to provide unprecedented financial support, and we have continued to provide support to the culture sector as we navigate our way through this crisis. We provided a package of support to help the culture sector weather the impact of coronavirus, including a £59 million funding package to protect jobs, £12.5m for performing arts venues and £2.2m for grassroots music venues. 

“Cultural organisations and venues through Scotland have benefited from this, including in Dumfries and Galloway, where five venues have received a total of more than £240,000 from the Performing Arts Venues Relief Fund and the Grassroots Music Venues Stabilisation Fund.”