A worrying situation is developing in Glasgow for artists. A small section at the end of the Criminal Justice and Licensing Scotland Act 2010 (which brought in community payback orders) changed the law on entertainment licences. Glasgow City Council has interpreted this to mean that all free cultural events need a licence (prices vary from £26 to £7500). The protest group Scrap Public Entertainment Licence Fees say it can take 6 months to apply, the fee is non-refundable, penalties for performing without a licence are a fine of up to £20000 and/or 6 months in prison. They worry the state and unelected persons in Glasgow's licensing dept now have the power to censor cultural events inc poetry readings, cafe exhibitions and free music events. Ironically enough 2012 is the year of Creative Scotland. Nice.
Even more ironically the Arts and Humanities Research Council have recently awarded £122,500 to the Glasgow School of Art to study the phenomenon known as the "Glasgow Miracle" - the overwhelming success of spontaneous, community-based art in Glasgow. Artists in Glasgow have taken empty warehouses, factories, shops, offices and transformed them into vibrant, productive spaces like Wasps and Ironbratz Studios, based in an empty Merchant City office. Glasgow's resourcefulness in using unconventional spaces to host events with local and international talent has been amazing. Now these artist-led initiatives need to apply for licences to host free events. It's daft.
The application fee for a Public Entertainment Licence last year was £120 to £7500. Months of notice must be given to the Council and 21 days of public notice via signage posted at the location. Artist collective The Mutual, for example, don't have permanent premises and hold exhibitions in a variety of venues, each of which would require licensing under the new law. It would almost certainly end the "pop up" exhibition in Glasgow – using empty shops between leases as temporary exhibition space. Glasgow's art community has produced a number of exceptional talents, and notably the last three Turner Prizes have been awarded to artists with connections to the city – this means income from Glasgow through profile, visitors and tourism. The Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art has been so successful it's used as a model for similar events in other cities and countries. This kind of success is built on a strong foundation of artist-led initiatives and independent exhibitions – how will they survive such nit-picking, expensive and pointless new rules?
And it's not just artists -- community organizations, clubs and activity groups, students, charities and performers of all types will all feel the restrictions imposed by this licensing change due to come into force on April Fool's Day this year.
This does seem so daft I asked the Scottish Government why the new regulation was brought in. It seems they think Glasgow Council is making an issue where there is none. They changed the law to tackle raves where there was the prospect of disorder and local authorities couldn't control what landowners wanted to do. You could certainly argue whether that's needed – but there is apparently a flexibility built in to differentiate between a commercial rave and everything else. No other council as far as they know interprets the law as Glasgow plans to do. The govt say the distinction is clear in the legislation and the guidance attached to it. Seems Glasgow is making a mountain out of a mole hill and failing to do what others are just getting on with.
Well – what's the truth? Are artists and community groups in other areas facing this problem or is it just Glasgow? Does the Scottish government need to issue new guidelines (a la petition here) http://www.change.org/petitions/the-scottish-government-scrap-public-entertainment-licence-fees or do Glasgow councillors need to stop worrying about the forthcoming elections and sort this problem out on Thursday when they can postpone application for 6 months pending a review. Or indeed just take some quick legal advice. Or call the Scottish Government to clarify and withdraw the licence rules? Too simple?