Ruth Wishart
January 2017

Ruth Wishart
Ruth Wishart, Chair

Most people who work in or for the arts share a common experience – they spend an inordinate amount of time trying to generate funds to keep their show on the road. It can be a source of immense frustration since creativity and accountancy are often quite disparate skills – at least for those on the right side of the law!

But for those of us privileged to serve as trustees of the Dewar Arts Awards, there is a rather more congenial responsibility: we are charged with disbursing and re-investing funds rather than raising them. And we address that task with a very specific set of criteria.

The fund was devised in 2001, the year after the untimely death of Scotland’s first First Minister when the then Scottish Executive set up a £5m trust in his memory. Trustees liaise on a regular basis with the portfolio managers. The funds were to be awarded to young talented Scots in any field of the arts given Donald Dewar’s lifelong passion for them. We determined to marry that passion to his other long standing commitment to social justice. Thus there are only two qualifications for a Dewar Arts Award: you must be exceptionally talented in your field, and you must lack the resources to fulfil your potential.

Scotland’s first First Minister, Donald Dewar.
Scotland’s first First Minister, Donald Dewar.

An upper age limit of 30 was agreed, but no minimum entry point since many creatives, from dancers to pipers, tend to be precocious. It was also agreed that nationality was not a factor, only the proviso that the applicant must live and work or study in Scotland.

Over the 15 years of these awards the board has been fortunate to enjoy the voluntary services of many distinguished trustees who have brought immense experience, knowledge and commitment to bear on our deliberations. I am enormously grateful for the time, energy and enthusiasm they have expended.

Over that period too, many of the young people who have won recognition have rewarded our investment with glittering careers in every art form, winning awards and admiration. But, in truth, important as that success has been, there has been equal satisfaction in watching our successful applicants, some of whom have come from difficult circumstances, blossom and gain confidence as individuals.

"This report does two things: it offers a frank record of these 15 years, who has been helped, how, and at what stage, and it also tells some quite extraordinary stories through personal interviews."

It is the trustees’ belief that placing faith in talented young people always proves worthwhile, whether or not their journey takes them to the top of a profession in the arts.

As you will see from this report, most of them have continued to work in the arts, but virtually all have utilised their award to enrich their lives. We are extremely proud of them.

The awards have evolved over the years in the light of our experience and sometimes challenging financial times. We have tried to improve and refine the process of application and selection. But we have never deviated from our core founding principles; to help as many outstanding young people as possible to travel as far as their talent deserves.

This report does two things: it offers a frank record of these 15 years, who has been helped, how, and at what stage, and it also tells some quite extraordinary stories through personal interviews. The material will be widely disseminated to encourage a new generation of applicants and archived for the information of future trustees.

We commissioned Faith Liddell, a cultural consultant and advisor to research and write our report. Aside from her wide ranging experience, she was an early Dewar Trustee and both understood and appreciated the ethos which underpins the awards. I’m immensely grateful to her for the zeal and commitment she brought to the task, and to our administrators and board members for their input.

Scotland has many reasons to be proud of its artistic talent – here are some of them.