A public body and SR

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Kenneth Roy

Last Friday the arts correspondent of The Herald phoned to alert us to a parliamentary motion about to be tabled by Robin Harper MSP, following our weekend editorial on Scotland’s new public body for the arts, Creative Scotland. The Herald journalist asked about the timing of the editorial: why now? The answer is plain enough: the general concerns over the function and direction of Creative Scotland had suddenly acquired a sharper focus.

Kenneth Roy

Last Friday the arts correspondent of The Herald phoned to alert us to a parliamentary motion about to be tabled by Robin Harper MSP, following our weekend editorial on Scotland’s new public body for the arts, Creative Scotland. The Herald journalist asked about the timing of the editorial: why now? The answer is plain enough: the general concerns over the function and direction of Creative Scotland had suddenly acquired a sharper focus.
     Last week SR was copied into an exchange of correspondence in which the chief executive of the new body made an extraordinary statement: that Creative Scotland was not a funding body in the sense in which its predecessor, the Scottish Arts Council, had been a funding body. This seemed to us to contradict the assurance on Creative Scotland’s own website that it had inherited the funding commitments of SAC; and raised the wider question of what Creative Scotland thinks it is doing if it is not a funding body. We wondered specifically what Andrew Dixon meant when he described his organisation as a ‘strategic body’.


He said he had contacted Creative Scotland for clarification of what was meant by the statement that it was a strategic body rather than a funding body but that it had declined to comment.


     Later on Friday, Robin Harper’s motion was posted on the Scottish Parliament’s website:
     That the Parliament notes that the full board of Creative Scotland has yet to meet and believes that this has led to a remarkable degree of uncertainty about that organisation’s function; further believes that this uncertainty has not been allayed by the reported statement made by Creative Scotland’s chief executive, Andrew Dixon, that the organisation is not a funding body in the sense of the former Scottish Arts Council; is concerned that Creative Scotland spent £35,000 on a logo without being certain of what the badging represented; further notes the opinion of Kenneth Roy that the arts, considered a central part of Scotland’’s national life, are being surrendered to inexcusable chaos; and urges the Scottish Government to meet representatives of Creative Scotland as soon as possible and demand sight of its strategic plan and mission statement within a reasonable timescale and for Creative Scotland to undertake minimum expenditure on offices, staff and equipment until such time as its function can be fully defined.
     Robin Harper’s motion puts the essential issues squarely.
     Just as the office was closing for the weekend, the arts correspondent of The Herald was in touch again. He said he had contacted Creative Scotland for clarification of what was meant by the statement that it was a strategic body rather than a funding body but that it had declined to comment, saying only that it would reply direct to SR over the weekend. Is this Creative Scotland’s idea of sound PR?
     Andrew Dixon did reply over the weekend.


Our Board takes very seriously its role to develop quality, excellence and enjoyment of the arts, screen and creative industries for the people of Scotland.


     Dear Mr Roy
     I welcome the enthusiasm and commitment to creative professionals that you bring to your observations of the development of Creative Scotland. This seems an ideal opportunity to restate some facts. I have copied Robin Harper MSP into my reply to you, in light of his parliamentary motion today.
     Creative Scotland was formally established just over two months ago, on 1 July 2010. Our Board met for the first time a little over three weeks ago. Our senior management team has been in place for a little over one month. We are a new organisation.
     We have had only one launch event, for which more than half the costs were paid to artists. That event was a question and answer session where we clearly and truthfully answered every question we were asked. Some may not have liked the answers, but they were sincerely given.
     Our Board takes very seriously its role to develop quality, excellence and enjoyment of the arts, screen and creative industries for the people of Scotland. We intend to promote cultural exchanges between this country and the rest of the world and to ensure that the country’s creative professionals can profit from their talent. That is not ‘privatisation’; it is about valuing the skills and ideas of talented people and protecting their intellectual property.
     Sustainability across sectors is a priority and, to achieve this, requires partnership; relationships that will secure the long term growth needed for future success. This is our interpretation of ‘strategic’ – building alliances and partnerships that bring more to the whole than any single organisation operating in isolation. Relationships with lasting strength need time to develop.
     I have already met with and listened to over 100 creative organisations in all of Scotland’s places and will meet with another 100 before the end of the year. I find no trace of the uncertainty and insecurity that you refer to. Instead I find a country brimming with brilliance; creative people producing work of outstanding quality. There is no shortage of talent or ideas in Scotland and there is no doubt in mind that Creative Scotland has both the values and the expertise to match the creative sector’s ambitions for themselves.
     Yours sincerely
     Andrew Dixon


If, as Andrew Dixon states in last week’s leaked email, Creative Scotland will not be funding the arts in the old way, what is the new way?


     Where do I start to de-construct Mr Dixon’s letter? If the chief executive of Creative Scotland finds ‘no trace of the uncertainty and insecurity’ to which I referred in the weekend editorial, he and I are living in different Scotlands.      Among this morning’s other emails was the sad news that the Grey Coast Theatre Company, which has done so much valuable work in the far north, is formally going out of business later this month – ‘brimming with brilliance’ as Mr Dixon would no doubt put it, the company has simply run out of funding. Scotland is the poorer for its loss.
     Only last week the acute problems facing the Glasgow Citizens’ company were made public: Bridie’s old playhouse in the Gorbals is crumbling physically as well as artistically. In the same week Barbara Millar reported in SR the anxieties in St Andrews over the future of the Byre Theatre, which is facing a severe cut in its grant-aid. 7:84, once one of the crowning glories of the Scottish theatre, no longer exists. The National Theatre of Scotland, rightly criticised for ignoring the theatrical heritage of its own country, has emerged from the Edinburgh Festival badly damaged by a critical mauling. And these are just a few examples from the art form with which I’m personally most familiar.
     How, in the face of all this, can Andrew Dixon maintain that all is well?
     Sustainability across sectors is a priority and, to achieve this, requires partnership; relationships that will secure the long term growth needed for future success.
     Mr Dixon gives this as his definition of strategic. But what does it mean, exactly? I suggested that the hidden agenda behind Creative Scotland is the privatisation of the arts in Scotland. The chief executive has denied this in a curious way, emphasising the importance of cultural exchanges and the protection of intellectual property. Do these assurances really dispose of the privatisation theory? In what way are they even connected with it?
     If, as Andrew Dixon states in last week’s leaked email, Creative Scotland will not be funding the arts in the old way, what is the new way? His reply fails to address this specific question other than in the woolliest terms. Once the present transition year is over, it seems we will be entering a new era of ‘relationships’. But with whom? The local authorities, perhaps the most obvious source of complementary funding, are so financially stretched that there is talk of amalgamation. That leaves the private sector personified by Creative Scotland’s chairman, Sir Sandy Crombie, former head of Standard Life. I wonder how much challenging artistic work, possibly inconvenient to the interests and reputation of the financial services industry, the private sector would be willing to bankroll. We might be left with the odd comic opera.
     The other issue unanswered by Mr Dixon’s letter is what happens to the individual artist. Must he or she also go cap in hand into the marketplace, in search of a ‘relationship’, in order to qualify for grant-funding? Or is the era of grant-funding of individual artists over? I put these questions because, although Mr Dixon lives in a Scotland where such questions are not being asked, I live in a Scotland where they are being asked.
     It is reassuring to hear that the board of Creative Scotland has had its first meeting. As I write this at 10am on Monday, the first board meeting continues to be anticipated as a future event on the organisation’s own website. Fair enough: the website is wrong. So what happened at this meeting? Is there now a strategic plan, a mission statement? In short: what the hell is going on?

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Click here: http://scottishreview.net/KRoy18.shtml for Kenneth Roy’s weekend editorial

This article was reproduced with the kind permission of Kenneth Roy.

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