NEW REPORT: The Effects of Covid on the Scottish Traditional Arts

I’m delighted to say that over the past year or so, Dr Jasmine Hornabrook and I have been researching a major report on the effects of Covid on Scottish traditional arts (traditional music, dance, drama and crafts). Please circulate widely–a huge thanks to Catriona Hawksworth and everyone at Creative Scotland for commissioning this and to EVERYONE who participated in it.

The headlines are in the executive summary reproduced here:

This report was commissioned by Creative Scotland to examine the effects of the COVID pandemic and lockdowns upon the Scottish traditional arts across Scotland. The report draws upon two sources of evidence: a) an online survey of Scottish traditional arts community (May to June 2022) with 275 respondents, and; b) qualitative semi-structured interviews (May to July 2022) with 16 representative interviewees across the sector.

Chapter 7 lays out some suggested future actions for the sector to consider from this report (p.47), however the key findings of the impact of COVID on Scottish traditional arts in this report include the following:

  • Across the sector, people felt the pandemic had a profound impact upon their ability to participate with other people and in live events, either as an audience member or performer. The loss of regular in-person, social and performing events was a major impact of the social restrictions during COVID.
  • Between pre- and post-pandemic, there was a drop of almost a quarter of those people participating weekly in Scottish traditional arts and a concomitant rise in less frequent participation across the year.
  • There has been a very uneven impact from COVID on children and adult learners, with adult learners finding the digital pivot during the pandemic much easier than young people. Consequently, there is a strong feeling across the sector that the recruitment and retention of children to Scottish traditional arts has been more severely affected than anything else during the pandemic. This, combined with the ageing profile more broadly, makes recruitment and retention of children and young people to Scottish traditional arts the top priority for pandemic recovery across the country.
  • The worst financial impact of the pandemic was on freelancers in Scottish traditional arts. The average income across the sector is between £5,000 and £10,000, with 87% of respondents earning less than £20,000 pre-pandemic per annum from Scottish traditional arts, underscoring the importance of part-time and seasonal work in Scottish traditional arts. When asked how this income has been affected by the pandemic, 63% said their income had been either ‘reduced somewhat’ or ‘been badly reduced’ with 18% saying their income had ‘totally disappeared’.
  • The impact of the COVID pandemic and the social restrictions that it brought have changed the landscape forever for digital technologies in Scottish traditional arts. Not only has the ‘digital pivot’ had an uneven impact (both positive and negative for different artists and learners) it has also brought forward those changes that had previously begun before the pandemic such as remote working, local digital live events for local audiences, and globalizing the reach for musicians, dancers, storytellers and teachers. 59% of survey respondents took up online learning or teaching during the pandemic (either as tutors or learners) and of those people, 73% of respondents suggested that this digital pivot to their teaching or learning was either ‘essential’ or ‘very useful’.
  • 76% of survey respondents said that the pandemic had affected their wellbeing. Furthermore, 83% of respondents reported that they had used Scottish traditional music/dance/storytelling/crafts as a means to support their own personal wellbeing during the pandemic. This underscores the therapeutic and wellbeing benefits of Scottish traditional arts, which is an area that could be developed in response to the pandemic.
  • The impact of the pandemic on venues and audiences for Scottish traditional arts has been substantial. At the time of writing (summer 2022) programmers and events organisers were reporting that there has been a significant rise in ‘no shows’ to events, a decrease in ticket sales, and different responses to live, in-person events from younger to older audiences. Older audience members appear to be slower to return to in-person events, and are buying fewer tickets, and programmers for Scottish traditional music events are taking this into account in their programming decisions.
  • The sense that traditional arts are very much yet to see the full impact of COVID came through many of the interviews. Many venues and festivals however are coping with simply providing the events and fulfilling obligations to artists and audiences that have been continually rescheduled over the past two years. One of the consequences of this long delay to promised events is a ‘cost hangover’; many of these events were costed on 2019/2020 prices and travel, and the rising inflation and costs now mean that they are dealing with far higher overheads when providing these events in 2022 and 2023, with static ticket revenues.
  • Scottish traditional arts have an ageing profile of participants and audiences. The survey shows that almost half of all respondents were over the age of 55. The ageing profile of Scottish traditional arts is a significant factor both in the effects of COVID, and its recovery across the sector.
  • Women outnumber men at every life stage in Scottish traditional arts, and 62% of survey respondents were women. In terms of the shape of the sector, post-COVID, Scottish traditional music accounts for 66% of the sector, traditional dance 22%, traditional storytelling 9%, and traditional crafts 3%.
  • A number of aspects of the pandemic have accelerated digital trends and present opportunities for future growth in Scottish traditional arts for both amateur, voluntary and professional artists and learners. These include, new streams of income for professional artists and festivals and events who are enabled to reach a more global audience for teaching and performance; the emergence of ‘live digital’ events as meaningful practices for highly localised geographical communities, and international communities of practice; development of higher quality digital learning resources for both students and teachers of Scottish traditional arts; cross-sectoral collaboration and mutual benefits from cultural tourism and marketing involving Scottish- and heritage-aligned businesses with traditional artists, and; a diversification of the communities surrounding Scottish traditional arts through greater globalization and digital preference.

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