By Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, Principal, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

TODAY consultation closes on Scotland’s new Cultural Strategy, an approach ambitiously billed as helping create a framework through which government can “embed and elevate culture’s position across society”.

At the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland we applaud aspirations to embrace and share culture in all its forms throughout Scottish life. We know the power the arts have to transform and enrich the experience of individuals and communities, as well as reflect and inspire the confidence, compassion and very cohesion and identity of nations themselves. We also value the diversity and dynamism of a Scottish cultural landscape in which our artists, performers and creative entrepreneurs are truly world-class in what they do.

To that end the strategy’s stated commitment to “cultural excellence and pathways that enable people to develop technical skills and become outstanding in their chosen creative careers are open to all” is welcome. This aspiration aligns perfectly with our ambitions and articulates why, as the national conservatoire, we are committed to advocating for the wider ecosystem of the arts and playing our role in its continued health. It is this ecosystem that sustains individual artists, musicians, playwrights, poets and sculptors, gives the work of cultural heritage its relevance, and drives our economically essential creative industries.

Here at RCS we believe firmly that we can and must contribute to the realisation of the nation’s cultural goals. Already we work across all three domains of the cultural sector as identified in the strategy (the arts, creative industries and cultural heritage) and across all three areas of ambition in the strategy (transforming, empowering and sustaining). We therefore want to play our part in taking them to the next level.

So far, so good: The ambitions as expressed are exciting and full of potential. Yet, if Scotland truly wants to be a global leader in optimising cultural benefits, there is a vital element which cannot be overlooked: education.

It must be the centre-point of any delivery strategy, yet it currently sits at the margins of this contemporary cultural statement of intent. This strategy makes brief mention of Curriculum for Excellence embracing culture but there is no mention at all of how to address the declines throughout Scotland of opportunities for free or low-cost arts tuition or the associated decline in qualified music, drama and dance teachers for all students to access.

If young Scots cannot first experience and then, should they choose to, go beyond initial access, not only will they not progress towards expertise but they will likely not engage in the enriching lifelong experiences the strategy itself seeks to value, promote and protect. Scotland cannot claim to be a leading cultural nation if its young citizens do not have the insight and capacity to themselves be inspired creators and engaged audiences.

So, if education is to be the key tool for empowering individuals and communities through culture, we must ensure that arts and creativity are part of the mainstream school-based experience of young people throughout their education – an ambition that requires us to ensure both initial access to cultural experiences but also support for young people to follow this up.

This means Scotland needs a nation of nursery and primary teachers able and empowered to embrace with knowledge and confidence artistic learning within their classrooms. It means affordable access to continued tuition, qualified music, drama and dance teachers and appropriate qualifications that offer meaningful routes for young people to pursue their aspirations in the arts and creative industries. And it means that culture itself must have a vibrant ethos of learning at its heart.