Future Visions of Perth & Kinross

June 28, 2015 by Perthshire Creates

We asked 5 artists, designers and creative practitioners to talk at the Perthshire Creates Launch event about their visions for the future of the local Perth & Kinross area and their particular creative discipline.

Each speaker talked about both the opportunities and challenges which they anticipated lay ahead.  We have made the transcript of Clare Cooper’s talk available here as it considers aspects of the rural economy and the broad creative and cultural sectors. Speakers included:

Stephanie Fulke. Perthshire creates. 26

Clare Cooper’s vision, 11 June 2015:

It was suggested that I offer a vision for Perth & Kinross for 2020, but given my experience of how slow the kinds of change I want to see can be, I’m going to offer a vision for 2035 … 20 years from now …

It is not a utopian one as I’m afraid we’re going to be navigating increasingly choppy waters, but being a optimistic collapsitarian I feel convinced that there will be plenty of things that have changed for the good too!

So… First off, I will be 77 years old (if I’m still alive). But I’m in good company as there are now 1.5 million people in Scotland over 65, getting on for nearly 30% of the population and that’s around 50,000 in Perth & Kinross.

I’m still living in Alyth and I’m still healthy enough to be working, partly because I can and I want to and partly because a lifetime in the arts means I don’t have any kind of occupational pension.

But I feel good about that because I enjoy my work and I don’t need to bring in an enormous amount of money because Scotland, now independent, has been one of the first European countries to introduce a guaranteed minimum income and that’s had a huge positive impact on everyone in all sorts of ways.

For our world of arts and culture, amongst many impacts, it has meant that lots more people, including older people, have the time to engage in both formal and informal creative learning activities because it offers them a safety net and if they still want to bring in additional income on top of their guaranteed minimum income, it allows them to consider retraining to do what they love and to work a much shorter three day week.

Not only has this had a massive increase in many people’s wellbeing because they aren’t working such long hours and have a choice to occupy themselves with something that has meaning for them (and by the way as a result of this increase in wellbeing, Scotland has a significantly lower tax spend on mental and physical health than it used to), it has also resulted in a huge increase in the numbers of people who can now earn a living from arts and cultural practices on top their guaranteed minimum income.

1000’s of artists, designers, crafts folk, film and video makers and heritage experts are successfully managing to have a sustainable livelihood by sharing their expertise through all sorts of different kinds of learning experiences, some of them face to face and some of them enabled by the constant stream of innovation in new technology and, as a result of the Cateran’s Common Wealth project in the late 20-teens, the Cateran Trail locality has actually turned itself into a world renowned destination for learning a wide range of cultural and creative practices, which is called The School of the Moon (the same name that the Cateran Warriors gave for the instruction of their youngsters in cattle rustling!).

And of course all of this abundance of creative learning means that not only is Perth & Kinross’s so called ‘amateur’ arts scene even more exuberant than it was in the 20-teens, a thriving arts and cultural ecology of micro and small businesses has emerged which has a local, national and international market enabled by the increasing leaps of innovation in new technologies. This ‘small is beautiful’ wave of creativity includes both the making of beautiful things, useful things, needed things and the design of new responses to the increasing number of social, environmental and economic pressures.

Most excitingly, for example, Perth & Kinross has become a hot bed of new ways of designing products and services that support longer life and thanks to a series of pioneering XSchools facilitated by the sustainable design guru John Thackara back in the 20-teens, there are dozens of projects where artists and designers are working with farmers, tourism businesses, community councils, community development trusts, the nature reserves and Parks, the forestry industry and sustainable energy suppliers, the host of micro businesses supplying services in public health, utilising their expertise in re-imagining, re-perceiving and re-valuing to help increase the social environmental and economic sustainability of the whole bioregion.

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The issue of how to live and work sustainably has become more and more pressing.

Back in 2025, the sea level started to rise quite dramatically and people from Scotland’s coasts started to move inland.

In addition, inward migration from the increasingly overheating global South started to really impact on Scotland with thousands of people trying to settle legally and illegally each year.

Perth & Kinross’s population has increased dramatically and each year brings more and more extreme weather events.

All this is placing communities under increasing stress and people who have the competencies, qualities and attributes to adapt and deal on a regular basis with very high levels of risk, uncertainty and ambiguity, people who embrace failure and not knowing every day – like cultural and creative practitioners – have become extremely valuable resources in the quest to build individual and community resilience.

Perthshire Creates, which was launched in 2015 and thankfully properly grant funded to evolve over a 5 year period allowing it to develop its own sustainable business model, (it now has 2,500 members and requires no core subsidy) has become the cultural broker of the region, forging a diverse network of relationships between all those different groups that I just mentioned that allows those special skills that our community has to be effectively deployed.

One of the reasons it has become so successful is that its members joined forces with peers in Dundee in the 20-teens to develop a learning programme for individual cultural and creative practitioners called ‘The Art of Living Dangerously” and one of the most powerful tools they developed was an Alternative Balance Sheet.

This enabled individuals in Perth & Kinross’s creative community to learn how to better explain the different kinds of value they could bring to the table with all sorts of different stakeholder groups and it forced everyone to stop only being concerned with economic impact, or only imagining that artists did things on stages and in exhibition spaces and made them realise just how capable creative folk were in all sorts of ways that were especially relevant to the huge challenges everyone was facing.

As a result of all of this self-help and mutual problem solving by the arts and cultural community, a new breed of public and private funders has appeared.

Creative Scotland still exists, but their central belt offices are no longer and they have been turned into a responsive regional network staffed by individuals on the ground across Scotland – including in Perth & Kinross – who know their geography, the people and the talent that inhabit it and the issues they face intimately.

Still offering grant funding they collaborate closely with other public and private grant funders all of whom are fully committed to:

  • ensuring that their collective mission is to foster the health of the whole arts and cultural ecology, not the maintenance of survival of particular bits of the system
  • actively seeking out artistic risk and supporting it,
  • utilising funding practices that include funding the full costs of delivery and encouraging, not penalising (as they did back in the 20-teens) better financial capitalisation and
  • supporting all sorts of different kinds of legal structures.

And a new kind of very local funder has emerged, often attached to the local Community Development Trusts who have become powerful drivers of the new post-industrial growth economy.

They offer very small micro grants and loans to get projects and ideas off the ground and have a network of local experts from successful creative businesses who can be brought in to help incubate, prototype, accelerate and sustainably scale income generating ventures, not only from start ups but from creative businesses at all stages of their lifecycle.

So all in all, the environment for cultural and creative practice in P&K has changed enormously in 20 years.

The creative learning environment we have fostered has not only led to greater individual and community wellbeing, it has strengthened the ecosystem needed for creative businesses of all kinds to flourish, thanks in no small part to the success of Perthshire Creates!

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Illustrator, Katie Shiach spoke about the challenge of business rates and finding space to show and make work. Katie also did some live illustrating on the night, illustrating other people’s hopes for the future.