ARTISTS are calling on politicians to visit their studios over the summer recess in a bid for recognition of the value their work brings to communities.

Labour MSPs Rhoda Grant and Colin Smyth have already taken up the offer as part of a campaign by the Scottish Contemporary Art Network (SCAN), which representsover 130 visual art organisations and individual artists across Scotland.

The member-led visual arts body wants MSPs to then share their experiences online using #ArtInAction – and to make a public commitment to supporting visual artists ahead of the Scottish Government’s draft budget statement.

Before the recess a number of MSPs lent their names to a motion lodged by SNP MSP Tom Arthur, supporting the Art In Action campaign and acknowledging that “culture and creativity are not an add-on but central to how we live”.

When MSPs return to Parliament on September 1, SCAN wants each to have visited artists working in their constituencies over the summer and to match their supportive words with financial investment.

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The Art In Action campaign comes as local authorities look to further squeeze arts budgets, with Aberdeen City Council earlier this year considering cutting funding to some organisations by up to 100% in an effort to close a £50 million funding gap.

In recent weeks, David Leddy, the writer/director of some the most memorable Scottish productions this century, was forced to close his internationally acclaimed Fire Exit company after funding was cut.

Artists claim such cuts jeopardise the future of major festivals and events and ignore how the arts sector contributes to the wider economy and the well-documented human benefits to be gained from interacting with and creating art.

Giving evidence to the culture committee’s inquiry into arts funding earlier this year, SCAN warned MSPs of “real concern among our members that they will reach breaking point” and of potential “collapse” in the arts sector if funding levels continue to drop.

“There’s a general sense of real precarity in the sector,” says Clare Harris, director of SCAN. “While the contemporary visual arts sector in Scotland is very high-achieving, artists feel there’s a lack of support from the roots up. Only about 0.2% of the budget currently goes to culture.”

Harris wants other MSPs to take the lead of Grant, who met with artists at Circus Artspace, a pop-up gallery offering exhibitions and events within the former gym hall space at Inverness Creative Academy and Smyth, who visited Cample Line and MERZ, gallery spaces in Dumfries and Galloway.

“We want to raise awareness among MSPs of what is out there in their own areas,” Harris adds.

“We want them face to face with that activity. Undercutting that is an urgency that this activity needs to be valued, that it isn’t an add-on. It’s part of our lives, part of our society that if it wasn’t there, everybody would notice.”

She adds: “The draft culture strategy had a lot of great language about how culture should be recognised and valued. What wasn’t there was a commitment to invest in it to maximise its potential. We’re not asking for more money to create more art, we’re asking for money to recognise the role of art in society – for the Government to back up its words.”

When Smyth visited MERZ in Sanquhar the MSP for South Scotland learnt how the social enterprise had re-purposed the town’s former lemonade factory and abattoir buildings into a studio, exhibition, production and museum facility.

“Sanquhar is a former mining town and it’s not had a lot of financial input to regenerate it in the last several years,” says MERZ founder David Rushton. “It’s a slightly forgotten part of Dumfries and Galloway in the north. The former factory and abattoir are both based about 50 metres from the High Street and it struck us, in combination with the local community arts centre, that we could develop a cultural quarter.”

The neglected buildings were on the verge of collapse, Rushton says. Now, with the help of Creative Scotland funding, MERZ works to bring international artists to Sanquhar such as current resident Jason Maracani, a theatre and lighting designer from New York, as well as supporting local artists such as painter Dougie Sharpe.

“When we bought the abattoir it was partly to help local artists come in to work with visiting international artists,” says Rushton, noting that SNP MSP Joan McAlpine is due to visit MERZ in the coming days.

He adds: “You develop a kind of frisson between the two, communities of interest are set up, connections are made, networks are built and new ideas are introduced to a community.”

Ruston, also a film-maker who has made over 500 short films with artists over the years, says MERZ also provides an informal education setting for local artists wanting to stay in Dumfries and Galloway, an area where the creative sectors bring in around as much revenue as agriculture.

“Skills are no longer something you acquire once,” Rushton says. “Nowadays you acquire a variety of skills over a lifetime, and artists are quite crucial in helping to do that. There’s a concern in SCAN, as there is here at MERZ, that people with more creative skills are just allowed slip through formal education.”

He adds: “We want to provide for all people in education and beyond education, to help them be as creative as they possibly can and to think outside the box.”

As well as their members being better recognised for the contribution they make in their communities, SCAN wants artists to “be at the heart of decision-making”, says Harris.

“Contemporary visual art can feed long-term change within our communities,” she says. “We’d like to see artists in decision-making settings, giving more creative input into decisions that will help us builda more vibrant nation.”

Find out more about SCAN and #ArtInAction at