No more magic in Scotland

"I went to the north pole this morning. We created a whole world using our imagination cream. We always need that for maths lessons. Everyone was on a sled. We calculated how much we all weighed and how many huskies it would take to pull us and how long it would take us to get there. It was fun."

Rubbing herself with imagination cream may be all in a day's work for theatre professional Fiona Rennie, but it is a new departure for the maths department of Buchie high school in Moray. The project, which is designed to "sprinkle a little magic" over what can be a dry subject, is a product of Scotland's cultural coordinators, an invention of the previous Labour administration that went along with a theory of the "cultural entitlement" of all citizens. Both, however, are now being binned by the current SNP Scottish government.

The artists-in-maths project in Scotland’s north-east also includes jazz trombonist Chris Grieve, following a tour of Europe with the musical Rat Pack with gigs at Hazelhead secondary, where he has explained to first- and second-year pupils that jazz is “basically performance maths”, a theory he puts into practice by playing vulgar fractions.

Annette Murray, a creative links team leader employed by Aberdeen council, says she is “hugely worried about the future”.

“I have three cultural coordinators in my team. We have been together four years. For every pound we have been given by central government, we have brought in three more pounds. We know where funding is available and we know where the need is. But it takes time to build up expertise. I think abandoning this now would be a massive waste. The cultural coordinators have reached every area of Scotland because every local authority has had them. I think it has been a very effective use of resources.”

A national meeting attended by representatives of all 32 of Scotland’s local authority cultural coordinators is scheduled for January 17 to discuss their future after last month’s bombshell, when the culture minister, Linda Fabiani, announced that in two years’ time the programme will receive no funding at all.

Murray says: “I hope we can persuade the new government that this kind of work is hugely valuable. We should look at what they are doing elsewhere in Europe. The Norwegians put a lot of resources into culture in education. They have a concept of the ‘cultural rucksack’. You have a symbolic cultural rucksack, which each child should fill with glittering cultural experiences.”

The Guardian
January 2008