IN the seevintieth year o oor belovit NHS, we’re takin a wee meenute tae mind oan Nye Bevan, architect o a health service that’s universal, comprehensive an free at the pynt o yaise. But sin the recent daith o John Calder, Scots publisher, man o pairts and man o airts, A’ve bin reintroducit tae Nye Bevan as heizer up o culture. Calder aye mentioned Bevan as NHS pioneer an enthusiast aboot airts subsidy in the same braith. Hink aboot whit life in these inches wad be gin we hid airts that wis universal, comprehensive an free at the pynt o yaise.

John Calder an Nye Bevan mibbes dinnae hae ower muckle in common. By 19 year auld, Bevan wis a union leader in his community o miners. Calder wis frae a kenspeckle brewin faimly oot o Alloa. In his early 30s he inheritit the braw mansion hoose o Ledlanet. But though he wis born wi a siller spuin, he yaised his privilege fir airts fir aw.

In his 20s John Calder wis the ainly chiel publishin the prose o Samuel Beckett. He publisht scrievers the likes o Chekov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Goethe ower-set intae English. Culture, and Scotland, wis naehin if no International. At 35-year-auld, he organised the first international scrievers’ conference in Edinburgh, a forerunner tae the Edinburgh Buik Festival. He said: ‘The conference was an experience in adult education. We succeeded because there is a great hunger for education and for an understanding of the world we inhabit.’

An is that no juist it?

Aifter the war there wis a hunger fir health, fir peace, fir safe hoosin. But there wis a hunger fir education, fir culture an aw. An here we are noo, in a time that can feel like war. Adversarial rhetoric can gie the false impression we’re aw scrabblin fir scraps in a warld o plenty.

But hoo suid we stert tae educate, tae feed oor hungers? Hoo can the airts ivver aspire tae a national service?

A’ve twa wee case studies fir ye, dear reader. Mibbes models. An baith comes frae John Calder.

The first model o education an culture is the Traverse, the theatre in Embrae that he halped foond in the 1960s. The day it’s a weel establisht venue, a centre o new writin, an institutional backbone o the Fringe. Noo it’s a place for airtists to aspire tae; it’s no langer a place tae stert oot.

Spaces fir fowk stertin oot are aften stertin oot theirsel. Culture chynges, new voices, new ideas needs new places. We canna settle back on oor hunkers an congratulate oorsels because we’ve somethin guid. We need tae mak it new anew.

The National:

A few year ago a gap wis openin unner the Traverse’s programme. Embrae needit a space fir experimental work, fir performance airt, fir young companies stertin oot. That gap wis filled by Summerhall, a year roon venue in the auld Dick Vet on the Meedies. Notably thon space wis supportit by Richard Demarco, fellow Traverse foonder alang wi Calder. Tae be comprehensive, thir needs tae be range. As weel as established work, established scrievers, thir needs tae be places run by fowk wha hae nae idea whit they’re daein, producing airts by airtists wi nae idea whit they’re daein, fir audiences that sometimes hae nae idea whit they’re seein. It’s the haein tae wark it oot that’s the education.

That’s hoo tae mak it comprehensive. Whit aboot universal? Ma second model is John Calder’s “Ledlanet Nights”. Thon hoose he inheritit is in ma ain bonny coonty o Kinross-shire. At these nichts, Calder brocht in opera singers, folk musicians, ploys an a wheen o hings. Fir its decade o existence, the wee festival wis sometimes cried “Glyndebourne of Scotland”, but this wis a title Calder avoidit. Glyndebourne is defined by exclusivity. Calder wantit Ledlanet Nights tae be open tae ane an aw.

Twa fowk it wis open tae wis ma mither an grandmother. Ledlanet is twa mile frae the fairm whaur ma mither grew up in the 1960s, and whaur A grew up in the 1990s. Because it wis local, the bairnie Irene, and the 30-somethin Maria wad head up tae see whit wis happenin. Fir ma young mither it wis a warld openin up, but fir ma grandmother an aw. A fairmer’s wife in the 1960s wis no like tae get tae the Festival in Embrae. During harvest?! The very suggestion wad ae gien awbuddy a richt guid laugh. Gin it had ivver been suggestit.

So hoo dae we translate thon tae noo? It’s no that A’m cryin oot fir affordable nichts ae opera in the hooses o the weel aff (though hoo no?). I’m cryin fir localism. Whit joy, whit education, whit warlds were gien tae thae twa wimmin by thon nichts? It wis a regular hing, accessible, affordable, guid. It wis a hauf-oor daunder frae the hoose.

I like tae hink o John Calder in the early 1960s. Mibbe in a morn he’d be in an oot o the Traverse whaur mibbe they were rehearsing Ubu the King wi Ma an Pa Ubu depicted as “six-foot sexual organs”, then mibbe a meetin on Beckett’s prose warks ower lunch, then aff tae Ledlanet fir an echteen-centur opera performit by unkent singers.



Noo. Hoo dae wi mak it aw free at the pynt o yaise?