Over half a million pounds has been earmarked to support and develop community arts and cultural activities in the North over the next two years.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) this week announced approval of funding totalling £537,150 over two years to arts development agency, HI-Arts (Highlands and Islands Arts Ltd).

Just under half of the funding will be used to launch a new initiative, called the Community Cultural Enterprise Growth Programme (CCEG), which aims to encourage successful cultural groups to operate on a more sustainable, business-like level.

Along with matching support from the Scottish Arts Council, the funding secures the programme to be delivered by the work of HI-Arts until 2011 - during a period which is set to see a transformation in the structure of arts sector in Scotland.

Plans are already well advanced to establish Creative Scotland, bringing together the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen - the development agency for the screen industries - to form a new single national public body for the arts in Scotland. Creative Scotland is expected to be formally established in the first half of 2010.  Existing funding commitments made by SAC/SS, such as this one being announced today, will be honoured by the new organisation.

HI-Arts, which is based in Ballantyne House in Inverness, was established by HIE in 1990 with the remit of promoting and developing the arts and cultural activities in the Highlands and Islands.

Since its inception, HI-Arts has contributed to an exceptional period of cultural growth in the area, which now has 70 arts and music festivals,  over 35 feisean, 200 local history and heritage societies and 93 museums. Some 20 indigenous professional theatre and dance companies also regularly tour in the area.

A vibrant community arts and cultural scene is regarded by the Scottish Government as of significant benefit economically as it attracts visitors and creates more stable populations.

Around £299,000 of the latest grant aid is to be used to continue to support various well-established cultural activities and to foster new initiatives, but the remainder will be used to set up the inaugural Community Cultural Enterprise Growth Programme (CCEG)

Chris Higgins, HIE's head of culture and the third sector explained: "HIE has, since its inception, supported community cultural activity and there are now many cultural groups in the Highlands and islands which have the potential to grow to be very successful cultural social enterprises."

“The richness and dynamism of community cultural activity in the north is the fertile seedbed which will give our creative industries the edge.”