GLASGOW — For many in Glasgow, some of the most beautiful examples of Scottish arts and culture have been those at the grassroots level; not a lot of funding, not a lot of planning, just spontaneous collaboration and creation.
From poetry readings to underground concerts, many of Scotland’s most celebrated creatives have risen from humble beginnings to international success.
However, Scottish artists say a change in wording by the Scottish National Government to regulatory laws could threaten this spontaneous nature, as well as take money from already stretched artists.
The changes to the public entertainment license laws, colloquially called the ‘’art tax’’ by its opponents, have been the subject of a lengthy debate during the first half of 2012.
While the law previously required licenses only for events with paid-entry, an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Licensing Act 2012 removed the requirement. Many interpreted that to mean that all events, free or paid, would require a license.
Many worry that the process of applying for the license, which would require several weeks notice, as well as an undetermined fee structure, would cripple artists with bureaucratic red tape.
Many of Scotland’s most famous artists spoke out against the changes, including Trainspotting author Irving Welsh and Franz Ferdinand singer Alex Kapranos.
“I hope the council will realize their mistake and support the city’s artists rather than taxing them,” Kapranos tweeted on Feb. 12.
An online petition hosted on change.org, titled “Scottish Councils: Scrap Public Entertainment License Fees”, has received 19,000 signatures to date. The petition was started earlier this year by Glasgow-based actor and writer Kris Haddow.
Haddow says the issues of license fees isn’t the worst oversight of the changes, instead citing the law’s requirement for artists and entertainers to go through the application process.
“Even if the license was free, asking people to go through a 6 week process could cripple the arts as a lot of the work that takes place in Glasgow happens sporadically with short notice,” Haddow wrote in an email.
Haddow says the group working against the changes would like to see all small and medium-sized arts and entertainment events exempted from a license requirement,fees or not.
Joy Hendry is the editor and founder of Chapman, a Scottish literary magazine and was a longtime organizer of poetry and literature readings in Edinburgh.
Before starting her own publishing company, Hendry was a regular organizer of public readings and events, including one of Scotland’s largest poetry readings ever at Queen’s Hall, which attracted over 750 people, Hendry says.
Hendry says she thinks larger readings won’t be affected by the change, but more typical readings, with 20 to 60 audience members, could struggle with even a small license fee.
“It’s difficult in many respects, especially financially, keeping up a magazine.”
“I think that’s worse than anything, the prospect of going through such a hassle with the council,” she says. “Because anything you do with the council seems to take far too long.”
To clarify the changes, Kenny Macaskill, cabinet secretary of justice, issued a letter to all local council licensing boards, saying it’s up to them to determine an appropriate structure.
“This amendment therefore allowed licensing authorities to licence free events where they wish to do so,” he writes. “It was never envisaged that all free events should be licensed.”
Macaskill also says that is up to licensing boards and councils to use their discretion when it comes to which events should require a license.
In light of this, many town councils have undertaken public consultations to determine which events they will rule on.
Some cities, such as Edinburgh, have already completed consultations and now have a set of guidelines to deal with license applications.
Edinburgh city council decided to exempt small-scale, free to enter, public events of less than 500 people, specifically citing art galleries, poetry readings and other arts-related events.
A spokeperson for Glasgow City Council says the city will be holding a consultation until July 31.