Scotland boasts an incredible range of talent, from award-winning directors and writers to widely recognized actors and internationally renowned musicians, visual artists, architects and digital companies. As a result of the wealth of indigenous talent, Scotland produces a huge volume of home-grown productions and products each year. Recently we spoke with Brian O hEadhra – the Gaelic Arts and Culture Officer for Creative Scotland, the national leader for Scotland’s arts, screen and creative industries.
How long have you been involved in the arts, and in what capacity?
Creative Scotland is just over 2 years old. We are a coming together of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen (Scotland’s film development agency). We’re the national agency for Scotland’s arts, film and creative industries, investing in talent and quality artistic production across all parts of Scotland on behalf of everyone who lives, works or visits here. Our job is to help creativity thrive in Scotland and to help Scotland thrive on creativity.
From your perspective, is there such a thing as ‘Celtic’ arts per se?
In Scotland we tend not to use the term ‘Celtic Arts’ but rather ‘Traditional Arts’ and also ‘Gaelic Arts’. Traditional arts tend to be from Scottish Gaelic or Scots language and culture. We would see the term ‘Celtic Arts’ as representing the indigenous arts from the various Celtic nations – Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany.
If so, how would you define it?
If ‘Celtic Arts’ is the traditional indigenous arts, then we have a strong focus on traditional singing, music, dance, storytelling and crafts.
What are your thoughts on the state of the Celtic arts today?
The traditional arts are very strong in Scotland. Creative Scotland supports many excellent organisations, festivals and events which showcases our own traditional artists as well as visiting artists from abroad. Some of our key clients are: Celtic Connections festival, Fèisean nan Gàidheal, Fèis Rois, Traditional Arts & Culture Scotland (TRACS), Hebridean Celtic Festival, An Lanntair. Scotland also now has a Gaelic language television station – BBC ALBA. This showcases many of the young and well established traditional music acts, many of the performances taken from live performances at key festivals throughout the year.
How has it changed over the years?
Traditional arts events and support has changed quite radically over the past, say 30 years. The sector is much more professionally run producing some world class events and artists. There are many more young people engaged in Cetlic music and song in particular. The Fèis movement has over 40 Fèisean (Gaelic youth traditional arts festivals/workshops – usually a week long) across the country. Many of these young people are choosing to study traditional music at university level – which wasn’t available 20 years ago. Festivals such as Celtic Connections, Hebridean Celtic Festival and Shetland Folk Festival are high calibre events which offer a platform for these up-and-coming artists. These festivals also bring in world class artists who often collaborate with our traditional artists which is mutually beneficial.
Why is it an essential component of the Celtic identity?
Our indigenous arts express who we are and where we come from. We are extremely fortunate that we have retained our wonderful and rich traditions such as Gaelic singing, piping, Highland/Cèilidh/Step dancing, etc. Scotland and the world would be culturally a much poorer place without our traditional arts, languages and culture. Of course millions of Celts have emigrated from Scotland and Ireland over centuries. We owe it to our descendants living in Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, etc to keep our traditional arts strong, vibrant and relevant to modern day life. We also fully appreciate that the Celtic arts are alive and supported in these countries through festivals, classes, Highland games, etc.
What can we be doing better to promote and celebrate Celtic artists?
We need to keep studying and try to understand our own rich culture, language and arts. We need to find a way to keep it appealing to people today and make them feel that it is their culture too which defines who they are and where they come from. Creative Scotland are keen on international collaboration and will continue to support our traditional artists at home and abroad. We have also just produced our Gaelic plan which will bring the language more to the fore in our organisation and encourage staff and clients to engage with our national language.